Since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953, the stirring grandeur of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting of the Old Hundredth has been a familiar component of many large-scale State and National occasions. This metrical version of Psalm 100 was composed by the puritan William Kethe, a stunningly brilliant evangelical polemicist and satirist who went into self-imposed exile in the reign of Mary Tudor. Initially based in Frankfurt am Main, his extreme Calvinism led him to be received into John Knox’s congregation in Geneva on 5 November 1556. Kethe’s literary talents came to the fore in the twenty-five metrical Psalm settings he contributed to the 1561 Forme and Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments approved by J Calvyn
. This version of Psalm 100 is the most famous, and was set to a pre-existing tune by Louis Bourgeois. Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of the Old Hundredth was sung in Westminster Abbey at the composer’s own funeral, with the Abbey Choir, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. His ashes lie buried in Musicians’ Aisle with his wife Ursula.
from notes by The Revd Dr James Hawkey © 2014