Give unto the Lord       Edward Elgar

Give unto the Lord O ye Mighty,

Give unto the Lord Glory and strength.

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name;

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters:

The God of glory thundereth, it is the Lord that ruleth the sea;

The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation;

The voice of the Lord is full of majesty;

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars.

Yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.

Yea, the voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire,

Yea, the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness,

and strippeth the forests bare.

In His temple doth every one speak of His glory.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The Lord sitteth above the waterflood; 

And the Lord remaineth a King for ever;

The Lord shall give strength unto His people; 

The Lord shall give His people the blessing of peace.

Words from Psalm 29

Give Unto the Lord was written in the spring of 1914 for the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy in St Paul’s Cathedral. The Festival takes place each year and dates back to the very origins of the charity “Sons of the Clergy” in 1655. The first fund-raising event was a service on 8th November 1655 in the original (pre-fire of London) St Paul's Cathedral. A collection was taken at the service on behalf of the families of clergy who had remained loyal to the Crown following the execution of Charles I and who had been deprived of their livings by Cromwell, thus being left, in many cases, penniless. The service was followed by a dinner in the Merchant Taylors' Hall, at which a further collection was taken. The combined service and dinner became a regular annual event, one which still continues to this day – almost 360 years later. The format of the festival service has changed little over the years, and today it is still notable for a fine sermon from an eminent preacher, wonderful music from the Choir of St Paul’s, and pageantry. The service also symbolises the coming together of church and state in England, with bishops processing with the aldermen of the City of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury processing in state with the Lord Mayor.

This psalm setting, one of Elgar’s later works, since he wrote almost nothing after the death of his beloved wife Alice in 1920, contains all of Elgar’s hallmarks: lengthy and satisfying melodies, extensively detailed requirements for expression, articulation and phrasing, word setting that is both vivid and sensitive, frequent changes to tempo and mood and a rich harmonic language inherited from the late German Romantic tradition. The work falls into a number of clearly defined sections, and has some very rousing passages, full of vivid word setting, but ends with a mood of peace and tranquillity.

Sir Edward Elgar, the son of a Worcestershire piano tuner and sheet music merchant, and the first English composer for many years to gain established international recognition, drew inspiration from British culture, particularly matters constitutional and ceremonial, as well as the English landscape. Having no formal education or musical training, except that which he had gleaned from watching his father play the organ, and from lessons taken locally from a piano teacher, at the age of 15 Elgar took menial work in a solicitor’s office. At 16 he left to become a freelance musician and never held secure employment or a salaried position again. He learnt to play the violin and played and taught locally, eventually playing in a good amateur orchestra in Birmingham. (This was the orchestra which, in 1920, was to become the newly-formed and professional City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, with Elgar conducting its inaugural concert in Birmingham Town Hall). He also took the post of conductor of the attendants’ band at the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum. Elgar began composing in the early 1880s and quickly acquired some technique and a style based on his own study of the contemporary, forward-looking continental composers, especially Germans such as Wagner and Bruckner. He also studied the newly compiled Grove musical dictionary, and the works of other musicologists such as Charles Parry. Elgar regarded himself as something of an outsider, both musically and socially, and his devout Roman Catholicism was viewed with suspicion in some quarters. After a period of time in London, during which he married the daughter of a senior British army officer, but failed to gain regular musical work or recognition, Elgar moved back to Worcestershire, where he resumed work as a local freelancer. In 1890, the established music publishing house of Novello published his first work, and the rest, as they say, is history. Composition took over, leading to public recognition, widespread acceptance and a string of ground-breaking performances. Prestigious opportunities and an intense career followed. In 1899 The Dream of Gerontius was published and, despite the fact that its text was deeply rooted in the Roman Catholic doctrine, it was a landmark composition. By 1911, his Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma) was widely regarded as the most distinguished British orchestral work of all time. In his fifties, he produced his first symphony and the violin concerto, both of which passed immediately into mainstream repertoire, although the second symphony and the cello concerto which followed took a little longer to establish themselves. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925 he conducted a series of electro-acoustic recordings of his works. The introduction of the moving-coil microphone in 1923 had made sound reproduction possible in a far more accurate way than before, and Elgar embraced this, making new recordings of most of his major orchestral works and excerpts from The Dream of Gerontius. He is perhaps most widely known for his five Pomp and Circumstance Marches, written between 1901 and 1930. These were not written for ceremonial occasions such as royal weddings or coronations, but simply for five concert performances, the first two in Liverpool with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and the last three in London. Each is dedicated to a close personal friend. For much of his life, Elgar also indulged himself in his several hobbies. He was a keen amateur chemist, and maintained a small laboratory in his garden, patenting the Elgar Sulphuretted Hydrogen Apparatus in 1908. Somewhat surprisingly he also enjoyed football, and was a keen supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. (for whom he composed an anthem, He Banged the Leather for Goal); and in his later years he frequently attended horseraces. His protégés, the conductor Malcolm Sargent and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, both anecdotally recalled rehearsals with Elgar at which he swiftly satisfied himself that all was well and then went off to the races. He was knighted in 1904, appointed as Master of the King’s Musick in 1924, and received the KCVO in 1928. Various medals and honours from overseas governments were also bestowed upon him, as well as honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Yale, Birmingham, London and Aberdeen. He died in 1934 from colorectal cancer and is buried next to his wife, whom he survived by fourteen years, at St Wulstan’s Roman Catholic Church in Little Malvern.