John's Account

Christ on the Cross with Mary and St John (Rogier van der Weyden

"A true masterpiece" (Paul Harvey)
"Superb" (Benedict Rogers)
“Your music never ceases to amaze me" (Mark Agate)
"It is rather good" (Bob Archer)

What is it?

John's Account is best described as a Christmas Cantata although it's a cantata only in the sense that it consists of a series of musical episodes followed by a chorale. It requires four solo singers, with a good sense of pitch, but that's the only essential, because in the shop you'll find a complete backing track at minimal cost, which provides all the instrumental parts. It's more about achieving a particular sound than using the instruments as specified in the full score, which comes with a complete set of performance notes and a percussion map for the drummer. I encourage folk to download the preview file and take a look. (There's also a vocal score available.)


The words of the episodes are derived from the opening of John's gospel. The words of the chorale are a translation of O Gott, Vater, wir loben dich, set to the melody of Laßt uns erheben Herz und Stimm. I wrote it in 1986, revised it in 2012 and published a new edition of the score in December 2022.

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God.
The same was in the beginning with God
and the Word was God.
All things were made through Him
and without Him was not anything made that was made.
In Him was life and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness,
and the darkness comprehended it not.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
The same came for a witness
to bear witness of the light
that all men through him might believe.
He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light.
That was the true light,

that lighteth every man coming into the world.
He was in the world
and the world made by Him knew Him not.
He came unto His own
and His own received Him not.
But as many as received Him
to them He gave the right to become children of God
Even to them that believe on His name,
Which were born not of blood
Nor of the will of the flesh
Nor of the will of man,
But were born of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
And we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father,
Full of grace and truth.

Our Father God Thy name we praise
to Thee our song addressing,
and joyfully our voices raise,
Thy faithfulness confessing.
The power is Thine, O Lord divine,
The Kingdom and the rule are Thine!
O grant us, Lord, Thy blessing.

O holy Lord,
O Son of God,
Almighty Sov'reign,
Lamb of God:
O Lord, our God,
We praise and bless Thy holy name!


This is the 2022 edition of the cantata, sung here by Kay Higgs, Ruth Cullen, David Paine and Phil Caisley. It uses the backing track that is available from this website, demonstrating how effective this can be when used sensitively.


Six of November 1986 crew

Ruth Cullen / Paul Moore / Stuart Brown
Andrew Waugh / Paul Harvey / Phil Caisley

I first thought of setting the opening of John's gospel to music as far back as 1979, while my wife and I were still living in our first house. In those days I had a little old upright piano and that was it. I worked on and off at it, not getting very far until the local Baptist Church, of which I was a member, asked me to write something to celebrate the opening of a new suite of halls. So I finished the work off at speed and it was duly performed at the evening service on Sunday 16 November 1986. The original scoring was very much constrained by the limited number of musicians in the church and even then we had to import Sue Hardwick (flute) because our resident flautist didn't want to get involved. Various folk thought that it wouldn't work, only to express surprise when in fact it did!

In 2012 I revised it, in part because I recognised that there were some things I could have done better but mainly to add in the instruments that I'd have liked to have had in 1986. It is an amazingly eclectic work from just about every point of view, with the Indian modalities adding a decidedly exotic edge to it.

The idea of including a chorale didn't occur to me until my wife and I attended a performance of a Passion Play in Thiersee bei Kufstein, Austria. One of the congregational hymns, Laßt uns erheben Herz und Stimm, had such a glorious melody that I asked the Burgermeister of the town for permission to use it. He agreed readily. Even so and despite the Lutheran origins of the melody, the exotic flavour of the music continues through the chorale, maintaining musical coherence with the rest of the music.

It's a work of which I'm proud; and more recent conversations with three of the musicians involved in 1986 have convinced me that they have reason to be proud of it also.



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