Music for the Fifth Sunday of Easter — May 7, 2023

O Lord, our Governor – Healey Willan (1880-1968)

Click to view video

O Lord, our governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world!
Behold, O God our defender: and look upon the face of thine anointed.
O hold thou up his goings in thy paths: that his footsteps slip not.
Grant the king a long life: and make him glad with the joy of thy countenance.
Save, Lord, and hear us, O King of heaven: when we call upon thee. Amen.

 Behold, O God our Defender – Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

Click to view video

Behold, O God our defender, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
For one day in thy courts is better than a thousand.


These two works, sung by the choir this Sunday in church, were composed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953: O Lord, our Governor (Healey Willan) and Behold, O God our Defender (Herbert Howells). Healey Willan, CC was an English organist and composer. He composed more than 800 works including operas, symphonies, chamber music, a concerto, and pieces for band, orchestra, organ, and piano. He is best known for his religious music. He emigrated to Canada in 1913 to become the head of the theory department at what is now the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. In addition, he took the post of organist and choirmaster at St Paul’s Church, and subsequently, at the Anglo-Catholic parish of St Mary Magdalene. Based on texts from a number of Psalms, O Lord, Our Governor, one of the homage anthems for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, remains one of his most frequently performed pieces.

In November 1952, English composer Herbert Howells was invited to compose a short introit for the 1953 coronation. The text was to be verses from Psalm 84. He completed this quiet, reflective prelude to a great state occasion at the end of that year, on Christmas Day. For the coronation itself the combined choirs were large and Howells provided a fully orchestrated score, but this sensitive anthem is more usually heard, as it is this Sunday, with smaller forces and organ accompaniment.

Gerald Harder