Anthem 16 – I do commende

Welcome to Anthem 16 in my attempt to write a new choir anthem every week for a year. I’m Kevin Mulryne and I hope you will enjoy listening to my progress throughout 2024. Please do visit the website Anthem52.com, follow along on x.com – @realanthem52 or Instagram – @realanthem52 and send me a message to show@anthem52.com.

It was a difficult week. There was a lot going on at work and as a result I was very tired which, as previously noted, makes composing rather difficult. Despite this, I did manage to write a complete anthem even though there were more than the usual number of stops and starts in the process. Several avenues were deleted and I’m not sure about how it ended up.

It’s never a good idea to review things when you aren’t feeling up to it and I shouldn’t have looked back through the recordings of all my anthems so far last night, while I was in a low state due to tiredness. I left myself feeling that none of the pieces so far were of any worth and the expected progress hadn’t happened. I’m in a bit of more positive mood today but I’m going to leave the older anthems alone for the moment and come back much later on to see how I think I have improved – or not improved…

Back to this week’s anthem, however. I may have mentioned right back in the introduction to this podcast that April is a big month for Stratford-upon-Avon, where I live. Shakespeare’s Birthday is on 23rd of the month and the traditional celebrations take place on the weekend closest to the date. As begun by students and staff almost 200 years ago, a procession starts from King Edward VI Grammar School (among former pupils are William Shakespeare, me and my son) and ends with the laying of flowers at Shakespeare’s grave in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church (where my daughter and I are members of the choir and my wife and son are former members). When I first arrived in Stratford in 1977, representatives of a large number of countries attended to unfurl their national flags on flagpoles around the centre of the town and it was a grand affair. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) the political difficulties and the cost of inviting ambassadors and others has become prohibitive. The festivities are still great fun and remarkable for somewhere as small as Stratford. Several aspects of the celebrations remain the same including the Shakespeare Service at Holy Trinity Church and its Shakespeare Sermon, usually given by a clergy person with an interest in or a connection to Shakespeare studies and sometimes by an academic like my late father who was Professor of English at Warwick University and a member of the Holy Trinity congregation.

An innovation for that service began a relatively short time after I joined the choir in 1979 – the (almost) annual commissioning of the appropriately-named Shakespeare Anthem. This is one of the activities undertaken by The Friends of the Music of Holy Trinity Church and has featured several famous composers over the decades including Andrew Fletcher, Arthur Wills, Guy Woolfenden, John Joubert, Francis Jackson, Philip Stopford and many others. This year, the anthem is by a female composer for the first time – Becky McGlade. No spoilers but I’m very much enjoying rehearsing her anthem and you can find out all about her on her website.

With this time of year in Stratford whirling around my head, I decided to have a go at a Shakespeare Anthem of my own. I’ll probably try another one next week as well. I didn’t use an actual passage from Shakespeare, mainly because I couldn’t find one, but during my web search, I chanced upon the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust collections website. The Trust has looked after Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford for many years as well as some other houses that belonged to his extended family. I worked at a house called Hall’s Croft when I was a student and my wife worked at the world famous Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. The Trust also looks after a wonderful collection of items connected to Shakespeare including this book:

SR98 83256741. A Booke of Christian prayers, collected out of the auncie[n]t writers, and best learned in our tyme, worthy to be read with an earnest mynde of all Christians, in these daungerous and troublesome dayes, that God for Christes sake will yet still be mercyfull vnto vs. At London : Printed by Iohn Daye, dwellyng ouer Aldersgate, 1581. “To the Christian reader” signed: R.D., i.e. Richard Day. Commonly known as “Queen Elizabeth’s prayer book”. Prayers p.108v and p.109r. Binding Dimensions (H, W): 190mm x 130mm.

Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – licence – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0

While it isn’t a copy definitely used by William Shakespeare, it was published during his lifetime and is exactly the kind of prayer book that might have been in his library. So the prayer depicted above seemed like a good choice to set. Who knows, perhaps it was read aloud by William or one of his family?

I took a little editorial licence with the old English spellings of the words in order to make it work in an anthem but it’s mostly the same:


Words for Anthem 16:

I do commende and betake my life both body and soule, now and for ever.

Unto thee, with the father and the holy Ghost, one God of most excellent majestie, be all prayre, honor, and thankesgiving, for ever and ever. Amen.

There are only 2 sentences and a final amen but that wasn’t my problem. It just didn’t seem to flow. I ended up adding dots to quite a few of the notes because I thought that one of the issues was that the rhythm was very straight. I also went back and made the bass part lower in several places. Listening back today, I think the anthem is a little bit more attractive than I was expecting and, again, I’m wondering how much this had to do with my overall mood.

Anyway, it starts in F major and switches to G major shortly afterwards. Later it makes its way back to F major and I went for contrast in movement rather than key signature or feel in a central section that features a lot of quavers (8th notes). The texture here is much more complex and I think it does shift the anthem to a different gear. The end returns to something more like the original feel with a very loud and positive ending. I completely forgot to add an amen section but never mind.

You might be able to hear some of the aspects I tried to fix during the week but you may not.

See what you think:

Well, what do you think? Let me know on X.com @realanthem52, Instagram @realanthem52, as a comment below or via email show@anthem52.com

I hope you will join me next week for a new episode (perhaps featuring my second interview) – and a new anthem – only 37 to go – but until then the question remains – will I make it to Anthem 52?


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