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Settings of Psalm 122 have abounded in churches for hundreds of years.
Purcell composed one. So did Boyce. Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s setting, known by the ‘incipit’ (the first line) of the text as published in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, has become one of the most celebrated. Perhaps this is for the simple reason that it sets out to achieve musically exactly what the opening words say. From the moment it begins, it is throbbing with energy, and the first choral cloudburst of the words ‘I was glad’ still sends a tingle down the spine, even on the hundredth hearing.
Parry took a couple of coronations to get it exactly right, though. He originally wrote it to accompany the crowning of Edward VII, and then, nine years later, offered it up again, for the coronation of George V. This time, he added all manner of further pomp to his original to make it into the version we know and love. When Parry’s obituary was published in 1918, it was remarked that his job as Professor of Music at the University of Oxford had eaten up too much of his valuable composing time. Perhaps that was the reason it took him two goes to get I Was Glad absolutely spot on.
The Sixteen; Robert Quinney (organ); Harry Christophers (conductor). UCJ: 1795732.
Illustration: Mark Millington