Prince Philip & Benjamin Britten

The anthem following the first reading at the funeral of Prince Philip (17 April 2021) was Benjamin Britten’s 1961 setting of the Psalm 100 the “Jubilate Deo.”

The epistolary evidence shows that Britten was keen to write liturgical music for St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, when Prince Philip and Britten corresponded about the possibility in the early 1960s.  For reasons not altogether clear, Britten’s Jubilate Deo of 1961 was the only realization of the project.  The then organist and composer of St. George’s, Sir William Harris, found the Jubilate to be too “jolly” for the liturgy.  (Letter from Canon Bentley to Graham Elliott, quoted in Elliott, Britten: The Spiritual Dimension, 86.)  It was around this time that Britten’s contributions to writing music specifically for the liturgy (Anglican or Catholic) waned.  If Britten was aware of Harris’s opinion, the disapproval of so eminent a church musician might have been one factor in Britten’s shift of focus.  Other factors, though, include Britten’s increasing success in other musical genres and the fact that, though he continued to write works with Christian themes, such as his parables for church performance, his attachment to liturgy/common worship was not strong in his adult life.

Nonetheless, it is good to have this setting of the “Jubilate Deo” in the repertoire, and a bit of jollity, founded on Christian hope, was good to hear at Prince Philip’s funeral.

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