Coronation Concert

Incarnation Coronation Concert

Commentary written by Theodore Harvey (as below) and revised & read by the Rt Rev Anthony Burton, Rector, Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, 19 November 2013.
Choral selections were performed by The Incarnation Choir under the direction of Scott Dettra with Graham Schultz, organ.
Walton marches were performed by Scott Dettra, organ.

I was glad when they said unto me, C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918)

I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord. It was to the glorious sounds of the anthem you just heard, composed by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry for the Coronation of her great-grandfather King Edward VII in 1902, that the twenty-seven-year-old Queen Elizabeth II entered Westminster Abbey to be crowned on the Second of June, 1953. Sixty years later, the Queen still reigns over the United Kingdom and the fifteen Commonwealth Realms, including my own native Canada. Tonight we give thanks for Her Majesty’s six decades of service, including to the Church of England of which she is Supreme Governor and with which this church is in communion. We also celebrate the magnificent legacy of music associated with coronations, from 1727 to 1953. While great music has been written for royal occasions for centuries, it was perhaps in the twentieth century that this collaboration of Music and Monarchy reached its peak; in the words of historian David Starkey, “the coronations of the 20th century are the best, the most beautiful, and the most musically distinguished.” So we welcome you to the Church of the Incarnation and hope you enjoy this celebration of music from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

It was while on a visit to Kenya, on 6 February 1952, that the former Princess Elizabeth learned that her father King George VI had died and she therefore was now Queen. Coronations traditionally take place a substantial interval after a new monarch’s accession, both to allow for a period of mourning and to adequately prepare for the ceremony. June 2 of the following year was chosen as meteorologists believed it would be sunny; unsurprisingly for those familiar with English weather, they were wrong, but the steady rain did not dampen anyone’s spirits. In charge of the music was Westminster Abbey’s Organist and Master of the Choristers, Australian-born William McKie. The choir for the coronation, with boys and men drawn from various great churches throughout England, consisted of 182 trebles, 37 male altos, 62 tenors, and 67 basses.1 (We don’t have quite that many singers tonight, but we’ll do our best.) Together with a full orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, the total number of musicians was 480. One of those 182 choristers, James Wilkinson, many years later recalled his impressions of the big day as an 11-year-old choirboy as follows:

The night before the coronation, after a pillow fight in the dormitory, we did not sleep well and were up at dawn to watch the activity below us in Dean’s Yard…At the dress rehearsal we had been astonished on entering the Abbey to see not the familiar pillars and long vistas but scaffolding, plywood walls, stairways, direction signs and fire extinguishers; but it was only on the day itself, when we emerged onto the coronation theatre, that we got the first breathtaking view of the Abbey in its finery. Bathed in powerful television lights, the setting seemed to sparkle all the more…Once in our places…we took in more fully the glorious riot of colour—the vivid ermine-trimmed crimson robes of the peers and peeresses, the blue and gold carpets and, in the quire, the VIPs, among them ambassadors, princes from Ethiopia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, the rulers of Kuwait and Bahrain, and the Sultans of Zanzibar and Perak, many arrayed in gorgeous uniforms with shimmering jewels. Just below us was the Queen of Tonga who had endeared herself to the public by riding in an open-topped carriage despite the rain. With two hours to wait until the service started we prematurely ate our picnic lunch of ham sandwiches and apples, which had been provided in our cassock pockets. The bench seating was very cramped, and our only option for stretching our legs was over the laps of our neighbours, undignified but very necessary as the hours ticked by. Just before the service there was increased excitement and everyone stood, thinking The Queen had arrived. Instead, from under the organ loft came four cleaners armed with carpet sweepers for a last minute tidy up. To a burst of laughter everyone sat down again. Eventually, with The Queen processing slowly up the nave, we began the opening anthem, Parry’s I was glad. William McKie later said that as soon as the first notes had been sung he knew that the service would go well.2
At the conclusion of the procession, Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher presented the Queen to the People at each of the four sides of the packed Abbey, saying, “Sirs I here present unto you Queen ELIZABETH, your undoubted Queen: Wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service, Are you willing to do the same?” to which the congregation responded, “GOD SAVE QUEEN ELIZABETH.” Following a trumpet fanfare, the Archbishop administered the Oath, the Queen solemnly promising and swearing to “govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon…according to their respective laws and customs,” and to maintain “the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel” and the settlement of the Church of England. Following the Oath, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland presented the Queen with the Holy Bible. The Bible then returned to the Altar, the liturgy itself began, with this Introit, the first of several pieces written especially for the occasion, by one of Britain’s most eminent living composers, Herbert Howells: Behold, O God Our Defender.

Behold, O God, our defender, Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

After the introit, the Kyrie was said and the Epistle and Gospel were read by participating bishops, and the choir sang the Creed from the Mass in G Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Today the British Monarchy is known for the world’s highest standards in well-organized pageantry. But this has not always been the case; coronations in the 18th century were frankly a bit of a mess. In the liner notes to a contemporary reconstruction of the 1727 coronation of King George II, for which the next piece was originally written, we read:

By the end of September Handel had clearly finished his new compositions. Predictably, with no instructions apparently passed to him (or perhaps they were conveniently ignored), the results come the day of the coronation were delightfully confused. The printed order at times bore little relation to what actually took place. Handel's texts in his own anthems did not match what was printed in the service paper; several anthems were performed at different positions in the service to those officially sanctioned, and some pieces meant to be set to music apparently were not, and vice versa. The actual musical performances too suffered from more than a degree of disorganization. Archbishop Wake, perhaps miffed because he felt Handel had hijacked the order of service, wrote a series of caustic comments in the margin of his own service paper, commencing with 'No Anthem at all the Negligence of the Choir of Westminster'; and against Handel's first anthem was marked the terse comment: 'The Anthem all in confusion: All irregular in the Music'. The lack of musical coordination on the day cannot have been helped by the performers' being placed on two specially built platforms on either side of the abbey, their views interrupted by the altar. To make matters worse, five of the ten boys from the Chapel Royal choir had left with broken voices in June and such was the duplication of adult jobs between the two musical establishments that only one singer from the abbey was not accounted for from within the ranks of the Chapel Royal choir.3

But today, none of that really matters, because we have one legacy of this coronation that outshines any possible confusion at the time, the anthem first sung at the Anointing of King George II and repeated at this stage of every coronation since then. In the most sacred ancient part of the coronation ceremony, with roots stretching back to Biblical Israel, the Archbishop anoints the monarch on the hands, breast, and head, the choir having sung Handel's incomparable "Zadok the Priest."

Zadok the Priest, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

After the Anointing, the Queen was formally presented with various regalia, culminating in the actual crowning. With the Queen sitting in King Edward’s Chair, the Archbishop put St Edward’s Crown on her head, at the sight of which the people with loud and repeated shouts cried, “God Save the Queen.” The Queen having been crowned, the princes & princesses and peers & peeresses put on their coronets, and the trumpets sounded, and by a signal, the great guns at the Tower of London were fired.

While coronations are steeped in tradition, they have also been an opportunity to showcase Britain’s finest new music, never more so than in the twentieth century when this field was led by Sir William Walton. In addition to the Coronation Te Deum which we will not hear tonight, Walton contributed Marches for both the 1937 Coronation of King George VI and the 1953 Coronation of his daughter Queen Elizabeth II. The earlier march was entitled “Crown Imperial,” but ten years later India became independent and the British monarch was no longer an Emperor, so the latter march was titled “Orb and Sceptre” but is every bit as grand.

In between the two marches, we will also hear some of the music from the Homage. Having Crowned the Queen, the Archbishop solemnly blessed her, after which she was lifted up into her Throne so that the bishops and peers of the Realm could swear fealty to her. Led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops together pledged to be faithful and true to their Sovereign Lady, Defender of the Faith, and to her heirs and successors according to law. Then, beginning with the Queen’s own husband the Duke of Edinburgh, who today still stands by her side—tomorrow November 20 they will celebrate sixty-six years of marriage--the Peers of the Realm each pronounced the words of Homage: “I…do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks. So help me God.” While they were doing so, the choir sang a number of anthems including the three our choir will sing now in between the two Walton marches: “Rejoice in the Lord” attributed to John Redford, “O clap your hands together” by Orlando Gibbons, and “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace” by Samuel Sebastian Wesley. But first, Walton’s “Crown Imperial.”

Crown Imperial, William Walton (1902-1983)

Rejoice in the Lord, Anonymous (16th century)
O clap your hands together, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876)

Orb and Sceptre, William Walton

When the Homage was ended, drums and trumpets sounded, and all the people shouted, crying out: “God Save Queen Elizabeth. Long Live Queen Elizabeth. May the Queen Live For Ever”—a prayer that sixty years later seems to have been granted. The service then moved on to the celebration of Holy Communion, more or less as we do at this church every Sunday. At the Offertory, the new setting of the “Old Hundredth” Psalm Tune by the octogenarian dean of British composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, gave the huge coronation congregation its only opportunity during the service to sing together, and we’re going to imitate that experience tonight, with all of our voices united just as the Abbey congregation’s were on that day. So now we invite you to please stand as you are able and join the choir in singing the first, second, and fifth verses.

All people that on earth do dwell, arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

The Sanctus for the mass, like the Creed, was also by Vaughan Williams, from his Mass in G minor, originally written in Latin for Westminster Cathedral but adapted to English by the composer for use in Anglican services, which generally did not at that time permit choirs to sing in Latin. The text of the Eucharist followed the 1662 Book of Common Prayer but with additional prayers for the Queen and her husband.

The coronation in 1953 was attended by 8,251 guests--more than modern safety regulations will ever permit the Abbey to hold again. Understandably given the size of the congregation, Communion was received only by officiating clergy and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. As they did so, the choir sang another short piece by Vaughan Williams, “O Taste and See,” written especially for the occasion. After Communion, the liturgy concluded with Charles Villiers Stanford’s triumphant Gloria in B-flat, originally arranged by the composer for the coronation of the Queen’s grandfather George V in 1911, and the last new piece of the day, Walton’s Coronation Te Deum, for which Walton himself had rehearsed the choir. This was followed by what must have been an exceptionally rousing rendition of the national anthem, God Save the Queen. Our program tonight now concludes with first the Vaughan Williams communion motet and then finally the Stanford Gloria. Thank you for coming tonight and we hope you’ve enjoyed this celebration of the music of the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.

O taste and see, Ralph Vaughan Williams

Gloria in Excelsis, Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)

1James Wilkinson, The Queen's Coronation: The Inside Story (London: Scala Publishers Ltd, 2011), 28.

2James Wilkinson & C.S. Knighton, Crown & Cloister: The Royal Story of Westminster Abbey (London: Scala Publishers Ltd, 2010), 75.

3Robert King, liner notes, The Coronation of King George II (Hyperion, 2001), 3.

Coronation Liturgy and Rubrics taken from the 2003 facsimile edition of The Music with the Form and Order of the Service to be Performed at the Coronation of Her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the Abbey Church of Westminster on Tuesday the 2nd Day of June 1953 (London: Novello & Co Ltd, 1953).

Choirs and the Crown