The Pageant of Parliament

“A Pageant of Elizabeth”

“Non Nobis Domine”


(Notes by John Radcliffe)


From June 29th to July 21st, 1934 a major dramatic event, The Pageant of Parliament, was held in the Royal Albert Hall in London, celebrating the history of Parliament and the British people over the seven hundred years since Magna Carta. (719 to be exact, since the first Great Charter was issued in 1215: see wikipedia) The libretto was by the poet John Masefield, the Musical Director was Malcolm Sargent, and the choir was the Royal Choral Society. The names of the script-writers are listed as:

Creighton, Walter
Kipling, Rudyard
Shakespeare, William

For more details of the event visit “The Redress of the Past”.

Kipling’s contribution consisted of three poems, two of which were collected together as “A Pageant of Elizabeth”, and the third as “Non Nobis Domine”. The poems were published in the Daily Telegraph and other London newspapers on June 29th, 1934. They are listed in ORG as 1220 and 1221.

Daniel Hadas adds: Non nobis domine is “not unto us [o] Lord” in the Latin text of the Psalms.

The poems  are collected in:

  • The Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, pp. 1446 and 1447.

The Poems

The poems are markedly different in tone, a vivid illustration of the two sides of Kipling’s head. The two which make up “A Pageant of Elizabeth” are a paean of praise to the age of Gloriana, Queen Elizabeth, whose captains went forth ‘like demi-gods’ to conquer a new world for her. ‘England-England-England takes the breath’ expresses a triumphalist mood, which now seems a world away, and even then may have felt incongruous to some at a time of peril in the world at large, and mass unemployment at home.

See “Gloriana” in Rewards and Fairies, and the linked poem “The Queen’s Men” (“The Two Cousins”)  about brave young Englishmen going to their deaths across the seas to serve their Queen.

With “Non nobis domine” (‘not to us, O Lord’) we are back to the Kipling of “Recessional”, a measured humility. refusing praise or glory, and – in what he calls ‘hot and godless days’ – admitting that we have valued fame and wealth too highly, and asking forgiveness. A sombre message for the 1930s, far from the Elizabethan trumpets.

Jan Montefiore points out that ‘Non nobis domine’ was an expression Kipling liked well. In “The Eye of Allah”, the artist John of Burgos is asked how he did grisaille ‘shadow- work’, and replies: ‘Non nobis ! It came to me’. (Debits and Credits p. 383, line 14) This was a sentiment that Kipling himself would have felt about his best-loved works, like Kim and the Mowgli stories, for which he felt animated by his ‘daemon’.

The Musical settings

Parker T Gordon, of St Andrew’s University, writes:

It was customary for twentieth-century pageants to feature music, often as accompaniment to the action on stage and with songs performed by the cast or a separate choir. The vocal score for the Pageant of Parliament featured music by the composers Roger Quilter (1877-1953), Leslie Bridgewater (1893-1975), and Jack Strachey (1894-1972). Leslie Bridgewater was the music director, Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967) was the choral advisor, and the chorus was comprised of members of the Royal Choral Society. Although the second of Kipling’s poems collected under the title ‘A Pageant of Elizabeth’, is described in the programme as a ‘song of triumph’ (p. 17), it appears that of Kipling’s three poems only ‘Non nobis, Domine’ was set to music. The two poems of ‘Pageant of Elizabeth’ were instead spoken by the two Elizabethan Muses, performed by Henry Donald and Gerard Olivier. Quilter’s setting of ‘Non nobis, Domine’ appeared at the end of Part 3.

The pageant performance version of the piece begins with a short musical phrase, which serves as a recurring theme tune for the pageant. This theme is present in the 9-bar introduction to the song in Quilter’s vocal score (British Library). but the version published by Boosey & Hawkes replaces this with a new 4-bar introduction that mimics the song’s melody. In 1934 performances, the opening lines (until ‘That man has reached or wrought’) were sung by choir boys, later joined by a full SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir; however, this opening was given to the sopranos in the published score. ‘Non nobis, Domine’ is in print (as of 2022) and available in unison, 2-part choir, and 4-part choir versions. Boosey & Hawkes’s 1934 edition indicates that arrangements for choir and strings were available for purchase and parts for choir and orchestra were available for hire.

Publication of pageant music was rare but essential if a piece was to become recognised as part of the composer’s repertory (e.g., ‘O How Amiable’ (Oxford University Press, 1940) was the only piece published from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s music for The Pageant of Abinger (1934) and ‘The Builders’ (Cramer, 1934) was the only piece published from Martin Shaw’s music for The Rock (1934)). The bulk of pageant music that survives exists in manuscript form and remains largely uncatalogued, unpublished, and unrecorded. ‘Non nobis, Domine’ is an exception to the rule. Its publication ensured that it could be performed again, as it was in a 1935 Royal Choral Society concert at the Albert Hall (see the Boosey Archive, Quilter correspondence, British Library) and, according to the Redress of the Past Database, other pageants at Norwich (1949), Huntingdonshire (1953), and Bury St Edmunds (1959). Unlike the rest of Quilter’s music for the Pageant of Parliament, ‘Non nobis, Domine’ has been commercially recorded, and recent performances are available on YouTube. [P.T.G.]


©John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved