Music to Celebrate a Queen


When Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II, the occasion called for some of the leading British composers to write ceremonial music for the coronation. Because there was a period of mourning for more than a year after the death of her father, there was time for Arnold Bax, Arthur Bliss, Sir William Walton, and Cedric Thorpe Davie and others to write works. The first three of the pieces heard here were included in the Coronation ceremony itself:

The music didn’t stop there – a collection of songs was assembled early in her reign, inspired by a musical tribute to the first Queen Elizabeth, 350 years earlier that had been called The Triumphs of Oriana – instead of madrigals, “A Garland for the Queen” included songs and choral works by composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi, Herbert Howells and Michael Tippett.

During her reign, she appointed four composers “Masters of Queen’s Music”: Sir Arthur Bliss, Malcolm Williamson, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and Judith Weir (the first-ever woman in the post), whose duties have included writing music for important occasions. One who might have been, but had to turn it down when it was offered was Benjamin Britten. One of Britten’s last completed works was this “Welcome Ode,” which he composed in 1977, in celebration of her Silver Jubilee, the 25th anniversary of her coronation.

She’s long been interested in music, receiving 2 honorary music degrees even before her coronation. In 2005, Queen Elizabeth began to present the annual “Queen’s Medal for Music,” which has gone to conductors Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Colin Davis, singers Bryn Terfel and Dame Emma Kirkby, violinist Nicola Benedetti as well as many other individuals and organizations. She’s also included classical artists in her “Birthday Honours List” – knighting and recognizing them ceremonially, as well as attending performances of musical organizations and fundraising on their behalf.

We’ll end with a piece that was perhaps the earliest work written for her, by Sir Edward Elgar (who was Master of the King’s Music in 1930). His “Nursery Suite” was dedicated to the Princess, her baby sister Margaret, and their mother.




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