Vivat Regina!

Hubert_ParryWhen I first came to Westminster in 2009 one of the anthems I discovered with great glee was several pristine copies of C.H.H. Parry’s coronation anthem I Was Glad. While still commercially available, I wouldn’t dream of buying it — only because its use would be limited (how many times a decade do you sing something so decadent, anyway?).

Because of Easter’s early appearance, and a general need for more English choral music with a splash of grand organ, I thought we’d give it a go.

“I was glad when they said unto me ‘We will go into the house of the Lord’. Our feet shall stand in thy gates O Jerusalem.”

The anthem starts in six parts, dividing both the soprano and tenor lines. Dividing the two makes the introduction stand at attention, and almost gives physical height to the rich choral texture the altos and basses provide.

“Jerusalem is builded as a city, that is at unity with itself.”

But then, because six voices isn’t quite enough, Parry splits the choir in two, providing an antiphonal sound. The choirs weave their harmonies in and out, with the organ weaving in and out of the texture, painting some truly beautiful harmonies.

“O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love Thee.”

Going back into four parts, Parry gives us the key of Gb major, which is just a ridiculous key — I mean who has time for a Cb? This mid section is quite lovely though, as it uses the simplicity of four parts to amazing effect.

“Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.”

This all builds to our final section, which somehow ends up back in Bb major, with the split sopranos at the top of their range, and the basses and tenors belting out a wonderful rhythmic pulse that gives the listener a wonderful sense of ornate grandeur.

Elizabeth_II_greets_NASA_GSFC_employees,_May_8,_2007_editOf course, this is the summary of what a choir sings when not in the presence of the current monarch, or not present at the coronation of a monarch. In honour of the Queen’s 90th, Westminster Church will be adding the famous “shouts” of Vivat Regina Elizabetha! Latin for “God save the Queen!”.

Splat in the middle of the anthem, trumpets sound, and the choir sings the unison “VIVAT!”. The music provides instructions on how to take out this section when not needed. The plan was to do as most- and remove the section, but seeing as how the Queen’s 90th birthday had just passed, I thought why not!