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Great Lord of Lords

author of text

Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625) is one of the giants of early church music. He sang in the choir of King’s College Cambridge, between 1596 and 1598 at the same time that his brother Edward was Master of the Choristers. He became a student at the University in 1599 and by 1603 was singing in the Chapel Royal during the reign of James I. In 1615 he was an organist there; by 1625 he had become the main organist (his assistant being Thomas Tomkins) and was listed as such at the funeral of James I in the same year. He was also noted as being organist at Westminster Abbey, having succeeded Robert Parsons in 1623.

On 1 May 1625 Charles I married Henrietta Maria by proxy – this had happened in Paris and the King had been in London. Once married, Henrietta set sail for England with four thousand courtiers and servants. Charles, not wishing to appear to meet her on anything less than an equal footing, moved his whole court to Canterbury where they were to meet. This included all the choir, vestments, books and ornaments from the Chapel Royal. Whilst waiting for Henrietta and Charles to arrive back from Dover, Gibbons died of an apoplectic seizure. His death is recorded in the Chapel Royal cheque-book as follows: ‘Mr Orlando Gibbons organist, died the 5th of June, being then Whitsunday at Canterbury, while the King was then to receive Queen Mary, who was then to come out of France and Thomas Warwick was sworn in his place organist the first day of July following’. Gibbons was buried in Canterbury Cathedral the next day. It was rumoured that he had died of the plague – a story denied by the doctors, but which was quite likely, the denial probably being to protect the retinue from desertion in the face of a major state event.

Great Lord of Lords was written by Gibbons in 1617 ‘for the King being in Scotland’. It is a verse anthem in which the five-part chorus alternates with an alto soloist. The final ‘Amen’ is characterized by a scale that ascends through an octave and a tenth and is regularly sung on its own, sometimes at the end of the Collects at Evensong or at the end of the final blessing; it was popularized in this latter context at the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. The anthem’s original text was of a personal nature and unsuitable for general church use. The words that are sung here were substituted in the nineteenth century at the request of Sir Frederick Gore Ouseley, founder of St Michael’s College, Tenbury, and curate at St Barnabas Pimlico during the famous anti-ritualistic riots. The new words were written in 1873 by the Reverend H R Bramley, whose most well-known text was set by Charles Wood as the anthem O Thou the Central Orb.

from notes by William McVicker © 2005


The English Anthem, Vol. 8


Track 6 on CDA67483 [5'01]

Track-specific metadata for CDA67483 track 6

Recording date
16 March 2004
Recording venue
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. The English Anthem, Vol. 8 (CDA67483)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: January 2005
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