Royal Wedding Music Highlights Britain's Classical Greats

Monday, April 25, 2011

UPDATE: The closely guarded secret of the royal wedding music has been announced. View the full service.

Prince William and Kate Middleton today revealed the music that will accompany them as they march down the aisle in Westminster Abbey in London. They have chosen a mixed program of choral and orchestral music for the 45-minute service, including pieces by Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten.

The couple will be serenaded by the The Choir of Westminster Abbey, The Chapel Royal Choir, The London Chamber Orchestra and The Fanfare Team from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. The ceremony will be televised around the world (and streamed live on WQXR.org).

Christopher Warren-Green, music director and conductor of the London Chamber Orchestra, called the royal couple’s musical tastes "all-embracing," adding, “Prince William and Princess Middleton have very good taste in music. They love music. Of course, it’s their wedding and we wanted them to have what they want.”

Before the ceremony begins, a selection of organ pieces will be played, as well as seven orchestral scores chosen by the couple. Three of these -- Peter Maxwell Davies's Farewell to Stromness, Walton's Touch Her Soft Lips and Part and Gerald Finzi's Romance for String Orchestra Op.11 -- were also played at the church blessing for the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005. 

There are also links to Charles's first wedding, to Princess Diana in 1981. They include Elgar's Sonata for Organ, Vaughan Williams' Rhosymedre and Walton's Crown Imperial, the latter of which will serve as the all-important recessional music.

In past royal weddings there has been a strong adherence to royal tradition and particularly to English composers of the past century.

In 1947, Queen Elizabeth II walked in on Prince Philip’s arm to the strains of Wagner’s Bridal March and exited to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer walked to the altar of St Paul's Cathedral to Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March and left to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 in 1981. Five years later, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson made a bolder choice by entering to Set Me As a Seal Upon Thy Heart by Walton, and exiting to the aforementioned Crown Imperial.

“The funny thing, looking at the music that has been chosen for past royal weddings, it seems quite conservative,” said Oliver Condy, editor of the BBC Music Magazine. “It’s only when you get to Prince Charles’s second marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles that you see things being shaken up a bit.” The civil ceremony wedding, in April 2005, featured Veruyu (The Creed) by Russian composer Aleksandr Gretchaninov as well as Elgar’s Triumphal March and (once again) Walton's Crown Imperial.

Prince William, who went to Eton, a private school famous for its choral singing, has said that his own tastes skew towards hip-hop and rock. It’s expected that he’ll closely consult with his father, Prince Charles, who has shown a keen interest in classical music, having reinstated the Royal Harpist position and hosted musicians at numerous charity events. The organist at Westminster Abbey will also serve as a musical adviser, and, of course, Middleton and her parents will likely have some input.  

Three commissioned pieces will be played at Friday's ceremony. British composer John Rutter has composed a choral anthem to be sung by both the choir of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal Choir. Welsh musician Paul Mealor has composed Ubi caritas, a new motet (a piece of choral music sung in Latin) and RAF Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs has will contribute the fanfare Valiant and Brave, which will be trumpeted just after the couple sign the wedding register.

While every monarchy since Charles I in 1626 has employed a resident Master of the Queen’s Music, in recent years, these composers have not provided ceremonial music for royal weddings (Peter Maxwell Davies, who has held the post since 2004, wasn’t invited to write music for this wedding).

If one thing is for certain, the royal nuptials will set the bar for couples around the world. The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana sparked a wholesale revival of the Prince of Denmark’s March that continues to this day. What's more, the official recording of Friday's event will be available to download within hours of the service finishing. (When asked about the short turn-around time, Warren Green was nonplussed, saying, “British musicians are notoriously fast sight-readers. Their professionalism is such that even if I get it wrong I know they won't.")

Condy notes that it was Queen Victoria who popularized Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, having used it as a recessional for her oldest daughter’s marriage in 1858. "People look to royal weddings as benchmarks of taste,” he said. "If a future king and queen are going to want it at their wedding, well, people are going to want it at their wedding. So they’re going to have to choose something that’s not too outlandish."

Join us on WQXR.org for a live chat during the royal wedding, which will also be streamed live on the site from 1:00 am to 9:00 am ET.

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Comments [8]

Mary Nowak-Sturkie from Helmetta, NJ

The excitement level soared when I received the news of John Rutter's piece as an anthem for the wedding. Of all modern day chorister composers, my love of John Rutter's work says there are none finer. Can't wait to pick it out of the wedding coverage.

Apr. 28 2011 05:34 PM
Jim Nicholson from New York City

Royalty is the state great music can lift all into and although the symbols of "Royalty" have been weaved throughout the history of Classical Music -- as no doubt classical music has been used much as PR to authenticate and induce belief "IN" political royalty -- listening in proper context helps one realize royalty/Intrinsic Harmony is within -- in its true form -- and must be nurtured like a delicate plant in the rain storms through general life...

Apr. 28 2011 10:23 AM
Susan Reid

In the belief that the bridal couple are non-traditionalists, I think their program of wedding music could include the following pieces:
o "Calla, Calla" ("Come and see the blushing bride") for the bride's entrance
o "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" immediately before the ceremony
o "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena (rejoice)" immediately after the ceremony or for the recessional

Apr. 28 2011 10:18 AM
Charlotte Droeger from Manhattan

I always thought
the wedding march from the opera :
"DER FREISCHUETZ"
bei Karl Maria von Weber
is a particularly beautiful and festive piece of musik for any wedding. usually it is sung by a corous, but might there be an instumental version? Eather way, it deserves considderation. CKD

Apr. 28 2011 09:57 AM
Harry Matthews from Brooklyn, NY

While one might not link Britain's tradition-bound institutions with new music, the Church of England is, in fact, the largest commissioner of new music in the UK and one of the most important music patrons in Europe. It's small wonder that so many contemporary British composers are known, at least in part, for their religious music. A commission for the wedding would be a great coup; the composer who strikes the right note, as it were, could have a hit on his or her hands. The choice is likely to fall to a familiar figure, like John Tavener or Thomas Ades, but it would be exciting to see a new talent discovered.

Apr. 27 2011 09:34 PM
Marilyn Brace from Ocean Township, N.J.

As an organist, I absolutely despise the Wagner. The Jeremiah Clarke is a much better choice. It is very festive and moves along well. Pachelbel's Canon has been used as of late although it is quite laid back.
I like the comment one person gave as to the "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba". It too is quite festive. Stay away from Mendelssohn. There are better choices.

Apr. 27 2011 09:22 PM
andyb from Wharton, NJ

I'd like "Entrance of the Queen of Sheba" by Handel for the Queen's entrance, or "Crown Imperial" by Walton. Some Holst should work well for the Archbishop, and, to be different, The Blue Danube Waltzes for the bride's entrance. (It's a long, long aisle.)

T-Mobile had a very, very different idea in their imagining of the royal wedding, http://youtu.be/Kav0FEhtLug .

Apr. 27 2011 07:50 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

Why, why, why are we talking about this? I know the new QXR wants so desperately not to be thought of as (horrors!!!) elitist, or not attuned to the least common denominator fluff that dominates the airhead media, so it is trying to come up with classical music hooks that allow us to pay attention to this nonsensical spectacle of obsolescence that I, for one, am trying to ignore. We tossed out the English monarchy some time ago, and don't need to be spending so much energy wondering what's going to be played, sung, or said at this fete.

Apr. 27 2011 05:16 PM

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