Gibbons' composition bathes wild-eyed John the Baptist in majesty

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

John the Baptist must have been “a real character,” as we say in the South, one who “marched to the beat of a different drummer.”

As John the Baptist announced the pathway for Jesus, the prophet Isaiah predicted John as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” hundreds of years before. Indeed, Isaiah also prophesied the birth of the Christ Child.

Wearing camel-hair clothing and eating wild locusts (Remember the plague?) and honey, John the Baptist was a true evangelist, baptizing people from Jerusalem and all Judea who sought him out and confessed their sins.

As any good evangelist would, he did not mince words, especially with the Pharisees and Sadducees who also wished to be baptized. And at the same time, John the Baptist exhibited humility: “I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”

The early Baroque composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) composed perhaps the definitive choral setting of this account of John the Baptist. His verse anthem “This is the Record of John” is beloved by choirs worldwide. Gibbons composed this setting for St. John’s College, Oxford, where it presumably received its first performance.

Composed in three distinct sections, a soloist first sings the verse, after which the choir echoes the text in fuller choral context. The anthem is traditionally accompanied by organ or a consort of viols.

The text painting in this choral setting is clever in every way: The musical answer to the question, “Art thou the prophet?” is a emphatic, accented “No!” And the high point of the solo melody appropriately occurs with the words “crieth in the wilderness.”

The Parish Choir happily offers this anthem at the Offertory this Sunday (Dec. 4) at the 10:30 service. We hope that you enjoy this Anglican choral gem as we do.


This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites

from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?

And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ.

And they asked him, What are thou then? Art thou Elias? And he said, I am not.

Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No.

Then said they unto him, What art thou?

That we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?

And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord.


Listen to The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, sing “This is the Record of John,” under the direction of Sir Philip Ledger (1937-2012):


Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 15:26