Spoken Introductions to “The Best Finger of the Age”

Orlando Gibbons


This concert celebrates the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583 - 1625). There is no anniversary.

Gibbons was organist to the Chapel Royal and at Westminster Abbey, and left behind him 45 keyboard pieces, of which probably 14 are for organ - it isn’t always clear, or sometimes even not important, if these were written for the organ - if it works on the instrument, then, it must be ok, as far as I’m concerned. Probably they wouldn’t have worried in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is his Fancy for a Double Organ (i.e. with two manuals)

Gibbons A Fancy for a Double Organ



Gibbons’ Hymn tunes are taken from “Hymnes and songs of the Church (published, London 1623, by George Withers). I’m going to play Preludes on two of them by Stanford - from his Six Preludes and Postludes Set 2, Op 105, dating from approx. 1908. His setting of Song 34 (Andante tranquillo) must pre-date the pairing of Song 34 with the words “Forth in thy name” - see the Dyson setting later in this programme - as in the English Hymnal (No. 197). Song 22 (Allegro) was obviously a Stanford favourite. He set Gibbons Song 22 again in his Bible Songs to the text Purest and Highest - Hymn after the Song of Trust.

C.V. Stanford Two Preludes on themes of Orlando Gibbons:
• Song 34 (The Angels’ Song)
• Song 22

Eric Thiman 1900-1975 was organist of the Temple Church, and these three preludes date from 1956. Although quite unlike Gibbons harmonically, they nevertheless do not (unlike some other pieces in this programme and in too many that I rejected), resort to fluffy meandering around the tune - there is a good deal of counterpoint, and false relations, both of which you hear from the real Gibbons in this concert are hallmarks of his music.
Song 13 (Moderato tranquillo) is now Jesu grant me this I pray
Song 24 (Andante quasi Sarabanda) - the Sarabande is a slow French baroque dance in 3/4 which often “sits down” on the second beat of the bar. Here, coupled with a modal flattened sixths and sevenths (a transposed A minor) give it an ancient feel
Song 1 - hear the canon at the fifth between the top line and the pedals. The tune is now associated with ‘And now O Father’ or ‘Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round’

Eric Thiman Three Preludes on themes by Orlando Gibbons:
• Song 13
• Song 24
• Song 1

Now, some delightful dance music, a French Air and Alman

Gibbons French Air and Alman

Ernest Bullock 1890-1979, organist of Exeter and Westminster Abbey, then professor at Glasgow wrote his Improvisation in 1953. Song 13 is a popular one! - this is marked Lento.

Dyson [Song 34] is the only re-composer to tell us what words he had in mind when writing the piece, ‘Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go’ Dyson’s dates are 1883-1964, and he taught at Malborough, Wellington and the RCM - this is a late work, from 1960. Stirring.

Ernest Bullock Improvisation on a tune by Orlando Gibbons (a simplified version of Song 13)
George Dyson Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go

I conclude with one of the greatest and most extended of Gibbons’ organ pieces, his Fantazia of Foure Partes, written for Parthenia, a collection published in 1611

Gibbons Fantazia of Foure Partes

ENDS