As we wait for the big moment or moments, I’m reading this list of the pieces of music selected for the royal wedding. Some of us were speculating that the couple might shake things up a bit by including some pop music, but I suppose they decided that such a tradition-bound event still demands traditional music at most points. The list hits most of the great English “classical” composers: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Delius, Walton, and some composers who are popular in England but less so outside it, like Finzi and Parry, whose “I Was Glad” is the bride’s processional music, and has been used in many other events of this kind:
There’s not much in the way of new music. The Master of the Queen’s Music, Peter Maxwell Davies, was not asked for a new piece even though he expressed his eagerness to write one, and he has expressed surprise at finding two of his older pieces on the programme.
I don’t see any representation of arguably England’s greatest composer, Henry Purcell, nor the writer of England’s most famous classical tune, Thomas Arne (<I>Rule Britannia</I>) but you can’t have everything. They’re also playing a bit of a Bach suite. Bach’s one of the few non-English composers whose music has become standard at these events. Among the standard royal event pieces, I have always had a fondness for William Walton’s Crown Imperial march, written for the 1937 coronation and played during the wedding ceremony this morning. It’s a pretty standard take on the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance style, but the fanfares have a style that is very much Walton’s own.
The inclusion of a dance from Britten’s Gloriana in the opening ceremonies is a rather nice touch. Some background: Gloriana was an opera written for the festivities surrounding Elizabeth’s coronation. Britten chose Elizabeth I as the subject, and while the opera had plenty of pomp and pageantry, it also showed the Queen as a lonely woman, doing what’s right for her subjects but not particularly pleased about dying alone. The opera received mixed reviews but also a lot of attacks suggesting Britten had done a disservice to such a great event, that he had failed in his duty as England’s premier composer. Whenever a bit of Gloriana is heard at a royal event, it’s a way of giving Britten the respect he didn’t always get in his lifetime.