2016-11-06 Notes from the Bench


“I Heard a Voice from Heaven” by Sir John Goss

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



I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me,
Write, From henceforth, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord:
Even so, saith the Spirit: for they rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
Revelation 14:13



The choral music of the English composer Sir John Goss (1800 – 1880) is among the core works of Anglican choirs’ repertoire; our choirs at All Saints’ regularly sing his works and we sing his best known hymn tune, Lauda anima with the text, “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” (#410). Goss is best remembered for his vocal music and is one of the last English composers who devoted their work almost entirely to writing ecclesiastical music.

Goss was born in Fareham, Hampshire, England. He was a descendant of a long line of English musicians, many who were acclaimed singers and his father was the organist of the parish church in Fareham. Goss was educated in London, sang as a chorister for the Chapel Royal, studied organ with Thomas Attwood, organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Goss was appointed to prestigious organist positions in London: Stockwell Chapel in South London, St. Luke’s Church in Chelsea, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, succeeding his former teacher there in 1838. While at St Paul’s, Goss had little influence over the music of the cathedral, and he struggled to improve musical standards there.

Goss was also an active teacher, serving as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music where he taught harmony from 1827 to 1874, and taught at St. Paul’s. His instructional book written in1833, An Introduction to Harmony and Thorough-Bass, was a standard music text of the era.

Goss was remembered by his students for his pious, religious life, patience and gentleness of character. Following years of poor health during the 1870s, Goss died in his home in Brixton. He is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Goss was awarded the Gresham Prize Medal for the best original composition in sacred vocal music in 1833 for his anthem, “Have mercy upon me, O God.” Goss was knighted by Queen Victoria when he retired from St. Paul’s in 1872. In 1876, he received an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Cambridge. Numerous posthumous memorials honoring Goss were erected in London and Fareham.

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