In 1921 the composer Gustav Holst was asked to set the poem ‘I vow to thee, my country’ to music. Being overworked at the time, he was delighted to find that the words largely fitted the maestoso tune from the Jupiter movement of his orchestral suite The Planets.
The words were written in 1908 by the British diplomat Sir Cecil Spring-Rice (1859–1918) but were revised in 1918 to reflect the devastation caused by the Great War. ‘I vow to thee, my country’ is therefore regularly heard on Armistice Day. The hymn was a personal favourite of Diana, Princess of Wales and was sung at both her wedding and funeral. This manuscript in the hand of the composer represents the setting in its original form, scored for choir and full orchestra.
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love:
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are Peace.
- Article by:
- Jeremy Dibble
- Music and place, Music and words, Music, politics and society, Performance and reception
Jeremy Dibble gives an overview of British composers in the early 20th century and their context.