If you are based in the UK, as I am, it will absolutely not have escaped your attention that this year marks 70 years since Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. Celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee will be taking place at the end of this week, and here in the UK we have been given an extra bank holiday as part of the celebrations. This means that the majority of people will not be at work on Thursday 2 and Friday 3 June, and it is expected that many people will hold Jubilee celebrations.
If you are holding a Jubilee celebration, what music will you play? Well, how about the following pieces of music which all have a Royal Connection? You will find a link to my spotify playlist for this occasion below (and linked to here if you just want to listen to the music):
Music for the Royal Fireworks
Composed by George Friedrich Handel to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the music was to be first performed in Green Park, London on 27 April 1749. Green Park, for anyone who does not know, is an area of parkland that is right next to Buckingham Palace. The work was commissioned by King George II, and he insisted that no string instruments should be included in the piece. Handel was not very happy about this, but did compose the Music for the Royal Fireworks only for woodwind and percussion instruments. It was intended, as the name suggests, to accompany fireworks in Green Park.
Commissioned from Handel in 1717 by King George I , the Water Music is a set of three orchestral suites that were played as a collection. This piece of music was to be played with the orchestra on a barge that travelled along the River Thames. The King and his entourage boarded another barge to listen to the concert, and many other Londoners found boats and used them to travel up and down the River Thames that night to listen to the work’s first performance.
Legend has it that the tune to Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for one of his future wives, Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII was certainly a keen musician himself playing several instruments including the flute, harp and lute and he did write a number of musical compositions. However, it is unlikely that he actually wrote this piece (it was not included in a set of 33 of Henry VIII’s compositions) and it most likely dates from Elizabethan times, the reign of Henry VIII’s daughter. Today, the piece is probably best known from composer Vaughan-Williams’ work Fantasia on Greensleeves.
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
We are back again with English composer Handel for our next piece on this playlist. The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is part of a larger work by Handel, the oratorio Solomon. In the story from the Hebrew Bible that inspired Handel’s oratorio The Queen of Sheba brought valuable gifts to King Solomon. Although the full oratorio is not performed very often, this piece from it has become a popular piece of music to feature in wedding music as it is bright, joyous and very lively, perfect for a celebration.
Composed for the coronation of King George VI in 1937 by William Walton, this very bright, triumphant and regal sounding piece of music was also played during our current Queen’s coronation in 1952, and also featured at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
English Composer John Ireland composed this piece of music in 1942, and it was chosen to be performed at the start of the Coronation Ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II.
Pomp and Circumstance Marches
As their name suggests, these marches, commonly associated with the final night of the Proms Season of concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, are perfect for an occasion with a lot of pomp and ceremony. Written by Edward Elgar, mostly in the early 1900s, with the last two composed at a later date, these works would definitely fit a Platinum Jubilee celebration.
Coronation Ode or Land of Hope and Glory
The music for this song comes from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches, specifically the trio theme from March No 1. King Edward VII had suggested to Elgar that the melody would make a nice song. So, when Elgar was writing a song, or Ode for the King’s Coronation, this was the tune he chose. The lyrics were added a year after the music was composed.
Zadok the Priest
Handel was a prolific Royal composer. Not really surprising given that music would be commissioned either by the Court or the Church at the time when Handel was alive. The words to this piece of music refer to the Coronation of King Solomon, so always refer to a King regardless of whether the reigning monarch is male or female. The words have been used in every Coronation in this country since the Coronation of King Edgar in 973. This setting by Handel was composed for the Coronation of King George II in 1727.
Birthday Ode for Queen Mary: Come Ye Sons of Art Away
Henry Purcell was a Court composer, and so he was commissioned to write a series of compositions celebrating Queen Mary II’s birthday. It was written in 1694 and was the last Ode to Queen Mary II as she died later that year.
Gloriana by Benjamin Britten is a 3 act opera which tells the story of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex, Gloriana being the name given to Elizabeth I by 16th Century poet Edmund Spenser in his poem The Faerie Queene. The opera was composed for Elizabeth II’s Coronation, but was not well received at the time. A later Symphonic Suite of the same name was taken from the opera, and this contains the courtly dances from the main work. The Symphonic Suite had a much better reception, and is still played in concerts today.
Well, a Royal Jubilee celebration has to feature the National Anthem somewhere, doesn’t it? So, here it is to round off our playlist that is fit for any Royal Celebration
You can, of course, head over to YouTube, or any other streaming service, or even dig around in a physical music collection – I still have quite a few CDs squirreled away at home, but that does rather date me! If you would prefer, my spotify playlist containing all of the pieces of music above is right here if you click on the link below.
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