I really had intended to leave The Record of John out of my Advent calendar this year, especially as I have more Gibbons planned for you later in December, but then I made the mistake of listening to it again, and I just couldn’t. I really do think this is one of the most amazing pieces of Advent music ever written, and it just doesn’t feel like Advent to me until I’ve sung the part about the voice that crieth in the wilderness.
(Which is sad, because I haven’t actually had the opportunity to sing this piece for some years now, and I miss it quite desperately.)
Like the Michael Wise piece from last Thursday, this is a verse anthem, but where other composers use music to paint a picture of the words, Gibbons takes the approach of using the music to capture the natural inflections of speech, at least in the solo line. It makes him very easy to sing with feeling, and I think also heightens the emotional impact of the music.
But really, you don’t need me to tell you why this is beautiful. You would be far better off just listening to it, and finding out for yourself.
PS – So I just went and had a look at Gibbons’ biography, and he apparently died of an apoplexy aged only 41. Spookily, this is the same age at which Michael Wise died (though he died while brawling with a night watchman). The moral of the story: don’t write verse anthems, or you will die young. And let’s not even get started on Purcell, who only made it to 36. Come to think of it, he wrote verse anthems, too. Really, don’t write verse anthems if you want to grow old…