This is the record of John
17th Century English Music at its finest by Orlando Gibbons
This utterly brilliant Orlando Gibbons masterpiece is an Anglican-style anthem based on a text from the Gospel of John from the Geneva Bible. John in this composition refers to John the Baptist. Typically this anthem is performed with organ or viol, and consort of voices. Though recently, thanks to the sterling work of Fretwork, this piece along with other work by Orlando Gibbons have had a makeover. Looking back at the writings of the time has lead to changes in the vocal parts and delivery. Also new choices of instruments such as Sagbutts and Cornetts have been utilised.
This is the Record of John is divided into three sections, each begins with a verse for solo countertenor or high tenor followed by a full section that echoes the words of the verse.
This is the Record of John was composed at the request of William Laud, who was President of St John’s College, Oxford from 1611-1621. It was specifically written for the college chapel, and it might therefore be presumed that this was where it received its first performance. The earliest known extant manuscripts of the anthem date from the 1630s, a decade after Gibbons’ death according to Christopher Morris, in his 1978 book, The Oxford book of Tudor anthems: 34 Anthems for Mixed Voices. They are located at major English cathedrals and chapels, as far from Oxford as Durham, suggesting that the anthem enjoyed wide use when first written.
The original text comes from John 1:19 – 23. Gibbons uses the text of the Geneva Bible; it is very similar to that found in the Authorized Version, but the AV has “one crying” in the third stanza, where the Geneva Bible (and Gibbons) have “him that crieth”.
The verses run as follows:
- 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? repeated x1) And he said, I am not. (Art thou the prophet? repeated x1) 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 repeated x2)