And what does Gloriana have to do with choral music?
During the triumphal reign of Elizabeth I, Gloriana was a name used to refer to the beloved “Virgin Queen.” The name comes from Edmund Spenser’s epic poem “The Faerie Queene,” which was at once a defense of Christian virtues, a reinvented history of Britain, and a song in praise of the Tudor Queen. Gloriana is the Faerie Queen herself and is clearly understood to be Queen Elizabeth. In Spenser’s poem there is assigned “to every virtue, a Knight to be the patron and defender of the same.” (From Spenser’s own description of the text.) The first mention of Gloriana appears early in Book I of “The Faerie Queene:”
Upon a great adventure he was bond,
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
That greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie lond,
To winne him worship, and her grace to have,
Which of all earthly things he most did crave…
(The Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto I, iii)
In honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, Benjamin Britten wrote his opera Gloriana. The opera title comes from Spenser’s poem, while William Plomer’s libretto for the opera was based on Lytton Strachey’s play Elizabeth and Essex. Britten’s opera about Elizabeth I was intended to honor the new Queen and stand as an English national opera. The opera includes choral dances that are often performed as a stand-alone set of brief choral works. The third piece, “Time and Concord,” closes with “Gloriana hath all our love!” The reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II were and have been long and illustrious and have coincided with the flourishing of English choral music. Much of the most beautiful and highly regarded choral works of English composers come from the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.
Our inaugural concert on August 3, 2014 will honor the great English music of the reigns of both the Tudor Elizabeth and the Windsor Elizabeth. The program includes music from the lifetimes of both queens, with works performed at each queen’s coronation. Repertoire will include Britten’s Choral Dances from Gloriana, works by English composers Byrd, Gibbons, Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Tavener, etc. There will also be a set of madrigals from Thomas Morley’s collection in honor of Elizabeth I, the Triumph of Oriana. Oriana is another name that was used to refer to Elizabeth I during her lifetime.
The ensemble name Gloriana Chamber Choir is linked to the repertoire for our first concert. Likewise the continued focus of our performances in the future will be on works from the Renaissance and the twentieth and twenty-first century. (That being said, this will not be an exclusive focus, for who can resist Brahms’ a cappella part songs or Bach’s motets?) Ultimately, while inspired by the concert program, the name “Gloriana” seemed appropriate because the word has such a musical and song-like ring to it. As we enter the realm of Gloriana, we anticipate many years of glorious choral music to come!