In 1911 Stanford was asked to provide a setting of the Gloria for the Coronation of George V. The result, finished on 23 December 1910, was an elaborate offering for large orchestra, chorus, semi-chorus and soprano soloist. It was also used at the Coronation of George VI on 12 May 1937. In August 1911 the composer added other movements of the Communion Service and published the work as the Festal Communion Service in B flat, Op 128. Though intended as a work for voices and orchestra, the accompaniment was also arranged for organ. The ebullient opening choral progression, regal in effect and majesty, echoes that of Parry’s I was glad
in its move from B flat to the dominant of C. Stanford, however, prolongs this imposing dominant for a pregnant moment, carrying us from the glory of heaven to the peace of earth before restoring B flat major once again. The design of the Gloria is ternary and Stanford reserved his best music for the lyrical central paragraph. Sung by the semi-chorus and solo treble, the atmosphere of prayerful supplication (‘have mercy upon us’) is captured in a wonderfully variegated choral texture where full chorus, duet, trio and solo all overlap phraseologically in a seamless harmonic environment free from cadential punctuation. The declaration ‘For thou art only holy’ is used for the chromatic transition back to B flat whose arrival (‘most high in the glory’) is marked by a return to the opening tempo. There then follows a closing statement of exultation in which, prior to the final ‘Amen’, Stanford momentarily transports us to E major (‘God the Father’) to give us a truly ecstatic glimpse of the celestial.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1998