2016-09-11 Notes from the Bench

“The King of Love My Shepherd Is” by Edward Bairstow

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


Sir Edward Cutherbert Bairstow (1874-1946) was an English composer and organist. Bairstow’s compositions are primarily church music; he wrote mostly anthems and service music settings. “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” is a hymn-anthem; an arrangement of a hymn and the melody it is commonly associated with. The text, written by the English hymn-writer Sir Henry Baker (1821-1877), is based on a Welsh version of Psalm 23 (Hymnal 1982, # 645). The melody is the well-known Irish tune, St. Columba. This melody was among those collected by the Irish painter, musician, antiquary, and archaeologist, George Petrie (1789-1866). Charles Villiers Stanford included this melody in his Complete Collection of Irish Music as noted by George Petrie in 1902 as well as the 1904 edition of English hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern. Bairstow’s arrangement accentuates the meaning of the text as he depicts moments of tranquility, the flowing waters, the valley of death, and the faithful dwelling within the house of God for eternity.



Sir Edward Bairstow was among the large group of Anglican church music composers who worked in the decades following the liturgical renewal that occurred within the Church of England which was initiated by the Oxford movement (c.1833-1850); musicians whose compositions contributed to an invigoration of the Anglican church music tradition. Bairstow’s musical training include studying at Balliol College in Oxford with John Farmer (1835-1901) and earning Bachelor and Doctor of Music degrees at the University in Durham where he studied organ and theory. He served as the organist of York Minster from 1913 until his death. Bairstow was knighted by King George V in 1932 for his service to church music.



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