Music to End the Day

Good evening, everyone.

Traditionally on the third Sunday of Advent our thoughts turn to John the Baptist,
and his proclamations of the coming of the Messiah.

Tonight we begin with Charles Coffin’s great eighteenth-century hymn ‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announces that the Lord is nigh’, set to the tune ‘Winchester New’, adapted from a German chorale:

On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings from the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within;
prepare we in our hearts a home,
where such a mighty guest may come.

For thou are our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away,
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth, and let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee
whose advent doth thy people free,
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Ghost for evermore.

We will now have one of the greatest of all English verse anthems from the seventeenth century, ‘This is the record of John’, by Orlando Gibbons. It is based on the familiar account of John the Baptist’s activities in John 1: 19–23. There are three ‘verses’ sung by a soloist, each followed by a chorus for five-part choir. The soloist in Gibbons’ own time would almost certainly have been a countertenor (the lightest male voice, lying above tenor). Modern performances use either a male or a female voice. The soloist in our performance is Jill Boynton. Accompaniment can be provided by organ or consort of viols (the stringed instruments current in Gibbons’ own day). Our performance used organ.

This is the record of John,
when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him,
Who art thou?
And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly,
I am not the Christ.

And they asked him, What art thou then? Art thou Elias?
And he said, I am not.
Art thou the prophet?
And he answered, No.

Then said they unto him,
What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us.
What sayest thou of thyself?
And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Make straight the way of the Lord.

To end, a special collect inspired by the work of John the Baptist:

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son and Saviour by the preaching of repentance
lead us to repent according to his preaching and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Adrian Boynton