The Coronation was celebrated in music both traditional and modern, with a stunning array of performers, including military bands, choirs, well-known operatic soloists, and 12 brand-new piece from composers personally selected by the King. The music ranged from solemn dignity and splendour of Baroque music from Handel and Bach to a brand-new anthem by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with many familiar favourites linking back to coronations of the past. Spanning place as well as time, the music also reflected the diversity of musical styles and traditions from across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
Before the service, we heard Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the two ensembles he created more than half-a-century ago, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. They performed three celebratory pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest composer of the Baroque German era: Magnificat anima mea from Magnificat in D BWV 243, Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen from Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 and Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied from New Year Cantata BWV 190. They also sang Ecce sacerdos magnus by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824–96).
Matthew Jorysz, assistant organist at Westminster Abbey, also played a Bach composition: Alla breve in D, BWV 589.
Following this, the audience was treated to a performance from the Coronation Orchestra, formed of musicians from various orchestras for whom the King acted as patron while he was Prince of Wales. As guests continued to file into Westminster Abbey, the orchestra played a new piece composed especially for the Coronation: Brighter visions shine afar by Judith Weir, the British composer serving as Master of the King’s Music, which according to the composer “suggests renewal and hope for the future”. This was followed by Jupiter from The Planets by Gustav Holst, Crossing the Stone/Tros y Garreg by contemporary Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, in a new arrangement featuring the King’s harpist Alis Huws, and Sacred Fire by English composer, singer and songwriter Sarah Class, a “celebration of love, faith and unity”.
Continuing the British theme of the music was Crown Imperial, a march by William Walton that is a continuation of the Pomp and Circumstance march tradition created by Edward Elgar, followed by the gentler and more reflective Fantasia on Greensleeves by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and then Be thou my vision; Triptych for Orchestra, a commission from a trio of composers, Nigel Hess, Roderick Williams and Shirley J Thompson, each of whom created contemporary musical responses to the Irish hymn which were played continuously as a single piece.
Striking a very different, jazzy note was Voices of the World, a new commission from Iain Farrington, which combined traditional tunes from across the Commonwealth family of nations.
Then came a sequence which could have been heard at any coronation since Edward VII in 1902 – with one exception, the Coronation March, written especially for today by Scottish film composer Patrick Doyle. It was followed by Trumpet Tune by English Baroque composer Henry Purcell; the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon by German-British Baroque composer George Frideric Handel; Oh, had I Jubal’s lyre from Joshua and Care Selve from Atalanta, both by Handel too; and finally Nimrod from Variations on an Original Theme by English composer Edward Elgar.
Peter Holder, Sub-Organist at Westminster Abbey, performed next, playing Flourish for an Occasion by English composer William Harris (a gesture of affection to the man who was the music teacher of the late Queen) and, in another gesture to Wales (one of many on this occasion), the Prelude on Rhosymedre by Vaughan Williams.
The central role in the service itself was taken by the choir, made up of Westminster Abbey choir, the Chapel Royal Choir of St James’s Palace, and singers from the Monteverdi Choir, all conducted by Andrew Nethsingha. They together with the Coronation Orchestra performed I Was Glad, the stupendous setting of Psalm composed for the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902 by Hubert Parry, director of the Royal College of Music.
Other pieces sung by the choir during the service were Kyrie eleison in a Welsh translation, with the eminent operatic baritone Sir Bryn Terfel, composed by Paul Mealor – this was the first Welsh language performance ever at a Coronation. We heard two pieces of dignified Renaissance-style counterpoint by the Elizabethan-era composer William Byrd: his anthem Prevent us O Lord, and the Gloria from Mass for Four Voices. A marked change of tone came with the Debbie Wiseman’s setting of verses from Psalm 47, another commission for this service which was in two parts: the first was sung by the Abbey Choir, the second by the Ascension Choir, a handpicked gospel choir. In a tribute to his late father Prince Philip, at the King’s request, the Cappella Romana performed verses from Psalm 72.
Once the King had been crowned, the Coronation Brass Ensemble played the sumptuous Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare composed by German composer Richard Strauss in 1924. The choir then sang an anthem by the Jacobean-era composer Thomas Weelkes and, during the enthroning and the homage, together with baritone Roderick Williams OBE, they and the orchestra performed Confortare, composed by Henry Walford Davies for the Coronation of George VI.
During the Coronation of the Queen, the choir, orchestra and fanfare trumpeters performed Lloyd Webber’s composition for the service, Make a Joyful Noise. The song included words adapted from Psalm 98, a hymn describing God’s redemption of Israel.
The congregation then stood to sing the Hymn, Christ is made the sure Foundation, by Henry Purcell. Another of the King’s 12 commissions for the Coronation was performed by the choir during this part of the service: Sanctus by British composer Roxanna Panufnik.
After the Lord’s Prayer the choir sang Agnus Dei, set by British-American composer Tarik O’Regan, during which Their Majesties received Holy Communion.
The congregation stood again to sing the Hymn Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven by Henry Lyte (1793–1847) after Psalm 103. Then all sat and the choir sang the Anthem, originally composed for the coronation of George III in 1761 by William Boyce, The King shall rejoice (Psalm 21).
They then sang Te Deum laudamus, composed by William Walton for the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. A fanfare sounded and all stood to sing the National Anthem.
After the service, the orchestra played Pomp and Circumstance March Number 4 by Elgar and March from Aristophanes’ play The Birds, composed by Sir Hubert Parry in 1892. The Sub-Organist played Chorale Fantasia on The Old Hundredth, also by Parry, and to round things off with Elizabethan courtliness brass players from the orchestra performed the Earl of Oxford’s March by William Byrd.