Anthem of the Bells

04 - 28_12_2010 - Westminster Abbey - 04

Westminster Abbey.

Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) setting of Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” is the choir’s anthem this Sunday morning (October 12). Dating from between 1682-1685, this anthem acquired is nickname “The Bell Anthem” from its opening prelude, which emulates the pealing of bells, even when accompanied by strings, as it was originally. This anthem is a “verse anthem” (alternating between solo voices and full choir) as opposed to a “full anthem” (for full choir throughout, also known as a motet). Verse anthems were a product of the English Reformation when the vernacular came to be used; composers perhaps felt that texts could be better understood in the vernacular when sung by solo voices. 17th and 18th century English composers such as Byrd, Gibbons, Weelkes, Tomkins and Purcell were all champions of the verse anthem. Purcell was organist of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal simultaneously and is buried beside the organ case in the Abbey.


“Henry Purcell by John Closterman” by John Closterman (died 1711) – National Portrait Gallery, London


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