Sir John Stainer’s “God So Loved the World”

Details at a Glance

  • Voicing: SATB
  • Lyrics: John 3:16–17
  • Language: English
  • Key(s): D
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Duration: 3:30 min.
  • Pages: 2
  • Price: $2.75/copy (LDS Choirbook), FREE (CPDL)
  • Download Site: CPDL
  • Listen:


Sir John Stainer wrote his setting of “God So Loved the World” as part of his oratorio The Crucifixion (1887). Although the larger piece many not be of the highest quality, this particular anthem is a gorgeous setting of John 3:16–17. If you haven’t yet heard or sung it, you’re missing out.

The LDS church’s music committee included it the church’s Choirbook, published in 1980. For the price of being able to sing this anthem, you get 24 other choral pieces, most if not all are worth performing. You can also download it for free from the Choral Public Domain Library.

The piece is for four-part, a cappella choir. If you have singers confident holding their parts, the music should pose no challenges for them. Range might be an issue, though, as the sopranos go to G5 and the tenors go to F4.

In rehearsal, these are the spots to look out for (bar numbers and rehearsal marks refer to the Choirbook edition):

  • m. 12: Because of the breath mark in bar 14, be sure to stay in tempo in bar 12 and let the choir breathe on beat 2.
  • mm. 15-16: Pay close attention to the stemming. The sopranos cross below the altos on the word “in.” This makes both the soprano and alto parts easier: It gives the sopranos an easier-to-hear leap, and it allows the altos just to walk up the scale.
  • m. 19: Speaking of soprano leaps, be sure in those bars as well as in the leap in this one that your sopranos are keeping the sound moving between notes in these leaps. If they try to sing these intervals as disconnected notes, they’ll struggle to make it to the high notes, let alone be in tune.
  • mm. 30-31: You may want to consider repeating the tenuto articulation here on “condemn the world” that was written in mm. 27-28.
  • mm. 38-47 (letter B): Before you lead the first rehearsal, decide how you want your choir to breathe in this passage. The commas in the text give some good options, but no one can sing this phrase all the way through without breathing. Figuring out breathing in rehearsal will waste time and invite an unnecessary plethora of opinions.
  • mm. 48-end: As the dynamics get very quiet, tell your choir to think of the sound as getting more intense and focused rather than softer (and thus airier). You could compare it to having a loud song on the radio, but with the volume turned way down.

As great of a piece as it is, this version of “God So Loved the World” will be a stretch if your choir consists mostly of people who cannot read music and who struggle to carry their own part.


Overall, Sir John Stainer’s “God So Loved the World” is a staple that every ward choir that has a core group of strong singers.

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