Role of music at the Coronation
Music has played a vital role for centuries in the coronations of English and British monarchs. The coronation of King Charles III will be no exception. The King has taken a close, personal interest in the music to be played at his Coronation.
His Majesty is known to be an aficionado of music, in particular classical music. He learned piano, trumpet and cello during his education and as a student played cello in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 with the Trinity College Cambridge orchestra.
He has also sung with London’s Bach Choir on special occasions including the Choir’s centenary in 1976. The King was president of the choir and is now its Patron.
On occasion, the King has also taken up the baton briefly to act as guest conductor of music ensembles in the UK.
The King’s love of music is also reflected in his current patronages, which include the Monteverdi Choir and orchestras, the Scottish National Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.
Official statements have made clear that the coronation will be rooted ‘in long-standing tradition and pageantry’ and also ‘reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future’. This will be reflected in the music, which will be a mix of the traditional and the new.
Some of the coronation music will follow tradition by drawing on British composers of classical music from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
British composers are expected to be featured in the performance by John Eliot Gardener and the Monteverdi Choir at Westminster Abbey prior to the ceremony.
Hubert Parry’s monumental I Was Glad may feature in the ceremony itself, as it is a Royal Family favourite. It was performed at the National Service of Thanksgiving for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 and at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
George Friedrich Handel’s famous and much-loved coronation anthem ‘Zadok the Priest’ has been played at every coronation since that of George II in 1727, for which it was composed, and is about the anointing of a king.
As the Coronation is, at its heart, a religious ceremony, there will be a number of hymns sung, though the details have not yet been revealed. Music from the Greek Orthodox tradition will also be sung in memory of the King’s late father, Prince Philip, who was baptised in the Greek Orthodox rite.
New music will be provided by 12 living British composers who have been commissioned by the King. Not all are identified as ‘classical’ composers.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, famous for his contributions to musical theatre, has written a Coronation anthem for the ceremony. Two other composers are known for film or television music – Debbie Wiseman (Wolf Hall and Father Brown) and Patrick Doyle (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
Iain Farrington has composed a work for a solo organ based on musical styles and themes from across the Commonwealth.
Music by Paul Mealor, composer of the beautiful choral piece Ubi Caritas for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, will also feature at the ceremony. As will music by the Master of the King’s Music, Judith Weir.
Other composers to be featured include Roderick Williams and Shirley Thompson, both of British-Jamaican heritage and Tarik O’Reagan, of British and North African heritage.
Coronation music adds weight to the tradition and pageantry of the event, underlines its religious significance, and enables its celebration as a joyous occasion.