The anthem Greater love hath no man
was commissioned in 1912 for Charles Macpherson, the sub-organist of St Paul’s Cathedral. Intended as a meditation for Passiontide, Greater love hath no man
drew its text from a compilation of scriptural passages in Daily Light on the Daily Path
, a series of booklets containing Bible readings which Ireland used to observe on a regular basis. The anthem rapidly gained currency in cathedrals and church choirs and, with the outbreak of war in 1914, its text gained a special resonance as the casualties from the front mounted. Indeed, with Alice Meynell’s poem Summer in England, 1914
, which contrasted the slaughter of Flanders’ fields with the tranquil scenes of England, and the subject of sacrifice emanating from pulpits throughout the land, Ireland discovered that his anthem inadvertently resonated with a wider national mood. Although Greater love
might outwardly seem to be influenced by the English verse anthem, in reality it has the scope and narrative redolent of a small cantata in its manner of continuity and ‘dialogue’ between soloists and chorus (the latter indeed assuming the role of ‘turba’ in contrast to its more normal role of reflective commentary). Here Ireland adroitly assigns the words of Peter (1 Peter 2: 24), presented in the first person plural (‘that we, being dead to sins’), to the chorus, as if they were the people of the church. Similarly, Paul’s words from Romans 12: 1, ‘I beseech you brethren’, used to epitomize the anthem’s theme of self-sacrifice, are given initially to altos and tenors in unison before they are joined by a ‘willing body of believers’. And even when reflective commentary is operative, passages such as the opening twenty bars are afforded greater impact by the method of solo voices (tenor) being affirmed by full chorus.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2017