In case my title and the image haven’t already given you a clue, today’s Tuesday Tunes is a special edition, and is very different from my normal themes. Unless you have just returned from a trip to outer space you will, I am sure, be aware that Queen Elizabeth II passed away last Thursday afternoon. I was born three months after her Coronation and she has been a constant in my life. Her reign saw much social change, over which she presided with dignity, and I wanted to show my respect for her in some way. So things will be a little different this time, beginning with this, from the start of the televised celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee just three months ago:
It seemed a little like short changing you to just give you that one song – after all this is meant to be about ‘tunes.’ But it just didn’t feel right to play songs in my usual way, perhaps with ‘queen’ in their title: that would, I think, have been disrespectful, so I am taking a different approach. I checked the interweb to see what music was played at Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, which took place on 2 June 1953, and found that there was a lot of it! The focus was music that had a ceremonial and/or British feel to it, and I have selected a few for you. They represent another change from the norm, as some are instrumental works, with a couple of choral ones in there too: they are all very enjoyable and include some of my favourite classical pieces.
As the Coronation was a joyous occasion, the Bringer of Jollity seems very appropriate:
This was the fourth segment of Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite, which was first played in 1917. The amazing conductor is Susanna Mälkki, who hails from Finland. The air you will probably recognise as part of the piece, starting at the 2’49” mark, is the tune which was adapted for the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country, which was composed from a combination of Holst’s music and a poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice, who was the UK Ambassador to the USA at the time of the outbreak of World War I. It was one of my favourite hymns as I was growing up, and still brings a lump to the throat now. It is a patriotic hymn and the music feels right for a Coronation at that time, though I wonder if social changes since then will see it taken out of the programme for King Charles III: the ‘vow’ is still very important, but some of the words feel a little jingoistic to modern day ears.
My next selection is another very typically British tune:
Greensleeves is a traditional English folk song which dates back to 1580, originally credited to one Richard Jones, though several similar compositions are recorded within the next year after that. You may have come across the widely held belief that it was actually written by Henry VIII after Anne Boleyn had spurned his advances, but as it is based on an Italian style of composition that didn’t arrive in this country until after Henry’s death in 1547 that seems unlikely. What does seem more likely, but is often swept under a carpet of leaves these days, is that the song has more than one potential meaning: one of them is that the word ‘green’ was frequently applied in those days to a prostitute, relating to the colour a dress might turn after sex in the outdoors. An interesting little snippet! This arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams is probably the best known and I think it is lovely.
Three of Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance marches were played for the event, #2 at the beginning, and #1 and #4 at the end. This is #1, which is probably the best known of them, as it always features at the Last Night Of The Proms concert. That didn’t happen this year – it was due to have taken place last Saturday, but the final two days of concerts were cancelled in deference to Her Majesty. So here it is in all its splendour from the 2014 event, including its encore:
Another choral piece which often features at celebrations such as coronations is my next selection. This one is actually a clip from the BBC tv broadcast of the event, with Richard Dimbleby’s commentary, and really is a little piece of history:
Georg Friedrich Händel was commissioned to write Zadok The Priest by King George I, for the future Coronation of his son, George II in 1727. It has been a part of every British coronation service since then and is still for me a very powerful piece. It sets to music the text from the biblical account of the anointing of Solomon: these words have been used at every English, and later British, Coronation since King Edgar was crowned at Bath Abbey in 973. In case you recognise it from elsewhere, it also has the dubious distinction of having been adapted by UEFA as the signature music for broadcasts of Champions League football: something of a comedown!
As Händel is one of my favourite composers I couldn’t resist including some more of his music which was also played at the Coronation. This was the Music For The Royal Fireworks. As the whole piece lasts for more than 20 minutes I thought I’d just give you a taste of what I think may well be the most recognisable part:
This was composed by Händel under a contract from King George II, to accompany a huge fireworks display in London’s Green Park on 27 April 1749. The music celebrates the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1748. The work was very popular when first performed and has retained that popularity since. Mozart called it a “spectacle of English pride and joy” – that makes it absolutely right for such a special occasion as a Coronation, in my view.
That’s all from my quick trip through the Coronation music. I’ll leave you as I began, with Queen playing for the Queen, this time on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 2002:
I hope you have enjoyed this rather different selection of music, and appreciate why I have done this. As I said, Queen Elizabeth II has been a constant throughout my life, and has set an example of service, wisdom and dignity that too many in public life these days seem to have forgotten about: I hope they take note of what she has meant to this country and to so many others around the world. Paddington Bear summed it up best: “Thank you, Ma’am, for everything.”
I think it fitting that I allow Her Majesty the final words, which she said in her message of condolence to President Bush after 9/11 and which have been recalled in the past couple of days both by President Biden and our new Prince of Wales:
“Grief is the price we pay for love.”