Behold, the tabernacle of God – William H. Harris (1883-1973)
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This Sunday’s communion motet in church, Behold the tabernacle of God, was written in 1954 by William H. Harris (1883-1973) for the opening of the new headquarters of the Royal School of Church Music at Addington Palace. It was also sung at the closing of that same building in 1994 as the RSCM moved on to new facilities. The text is from the Sarum Rite, an antiphon for the dedication of a church. Coincidentally, in the recording linked above, it is the choir of Salisbury Cathedral singing this work; it was here that the Latin liturgical rite also known as the Use of Sarum or Use of Salisbury developed late in the 11th century. Harris’ setting, which is fairly straightforward, although including some unusual harmonies and tonal shifts in the middle, is a beautiful representative example of mid-twentieth-century British anthem writing.
In the realm of Anglican church music, Harris wrote a number of popular, well-crafted works, including his Communion service in F, also sung by our choir this Sunday. Along with important work as a teacher and administrator at the RSCM and the Royal College of Organists, respectively, William Harris was organist-choirmaster at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle (1933-1961), where he was involved in the musical education of the teenage Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, who spent the wartime period at Windsor. He was knighted in 1954. Harris’ anthem Bring us, O Lord God, a setting of a poem by John Donne first heard in Windsor in 1959, was sung at the Committal Service of Queen Elizabeth II at St George’s Chapel on September 19, 2022.
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,
and the Spirit of God dwelleth within you:
for the temple of God is holy,
which temple you are:
for the love of whom you do this day celebrate
the joys of the temple with a season of festivity.