Music is an integral part of any coronation, a central element that adds splendour and solemnity to a majestic occasion in Westminster Abbey. We've seen it at the Coronation of King Charles, a day full of ceremony and wonderful music.


And it was no different in 1953, when the music for Elizabeth II's coronation played a key part in helping to lift the mood of a post-war generation and celebrate the dawn of a new 'second Elizabethan' era.

What music was played at Queen Elizabeth II's coronation?

Walton’s Orb and Sceptre

Walton’s Orb and Sceptre, inspired by Elgar’s equally grandiose Pomp and Circumstance Marches, was written for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953.

Its joyous exuberance and swagger set the scene for the day of celebrations, performed before the official service at Westminster Abbey. It was performed alongside the Crown Imperial march that Walton composed for the coronation of King George VI – Elizabeth’s father – in 1937. Its title refers to the Orb and Sceptre that are presented to the monarch during the coronation ceremony.

King Charles's Coronation - learn all about the composers, performers, music and more

Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches

With these bright and blazing marches, Elgar encapsulated the sense of self-assured militarism that helped to define early twentieth-century England. ‘I have something of the soldier in me,’ he said in a 1904 interview with The Strand.

Destined to become synonymous with British pageantry, they played a key part in several coronation ceremonies, including that of George V, George VI as well as Elizabeth II.

Herbert Howells' 'Behold, O god Our Defender'

When looking back at the list of composers who were invited to compose works for the Queen’s coronation, it is a veritable roll call of great 20th-century British composers. Herbert Howells wrote this quiet and reflective introit on Christmas Day 1952. On the day of the Coronation it signalled the start of the solemn ceremony that transformed a Princess into a Queen.

Vaughan Williams's 'O Taste and See'

Vaughan Williams was commissioned to write this new motet for the coronation by the director of music of Westminster Abbey, William McKie (see below). It is still regularly sung today. However, this was not Vaughan Williams’s only contribution to the ceremony. He also persuaded McKie to include a hymn with which the congregation could join in, complete with fanfare accompaniment – written by him.

Though this may not seem like a controversial idea today, it was considered such a breach of tradition that it had to be approved by the Queen herself before McKie would agree to it. Luckily she agreed, and The Old Hundred (‘All people that on earth do dwell’) has since become one of the countries best-loved hymns.

All People that on Earth do Dwell

The words to 'All People that on Earth do Dwell' are an arrangement of Psalm 100 (also known as ‘The Old Hundredth’), by Elizabethan churchman William Kethe.

For the Coronation, no less a composer than Ralph Vaughan Williams set Kethe’s translation to music – for all four vocal parts, plus organ, orchestra and congregation.

I Vow to Thee My Country

Could there be a more appropriate hymn for a coronation? The music, famously, is from the Jupiter section of Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, The Planets. The words to 'I Vow to Thee My Country', meanwhile, originate in a poem by the Edwardian diplomat Sir Cecil Spring Rice.

George Frideric Handel's Zadok the Priest

Handel wrote this high-impact coronation anthem for the coronation of King George II in 1727. It has been performed at every coronation since then, thanks to its majesty and capacity to evoke a sense of occasion

Hubert Parry’s I was Glad

Several composers - from Henry Purcell to William Boyce - have written musical settings of Psalm 122 for the Anglican church. There’s an obvious reason why Hubert Parry’s is the most famous: from the jubilant introductory fanfares and ecstatic first choral harmonies, this anthem bathes us in sunshine, utterly embodying the psalm’s opening line.

Did you know 'I was Glad' has been sung at every coronation since King Charles I's in 1626?

Among the other hymns and anthems played before and during the Queen’s coronation in 1953 were:


Chaconne from King ArthurHenry Purcell (arranged Herbage)
Trumpet Tune – Jeremiah Clarke
Crown ImperialWilliam Walton
‘Jupiter’ from The PlanetsGustav Holst
Regalia procession: ‘Oh most merciful’ – Charles Wood
Regalia procession: Litany for 5 voices – Thomas Tallis
Greensleeves – arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams
Nimrod’ from Enigma Variations – Edward Elgar
Music for the Royal FireworksGeorge Frederic Handel
Gloria in Excelsis
– Charles Villiers Stanford
Processional – Arthur Bliss
'Oh most merciful!' - Charles Wood
O taste and see – Vaughan Williams
Te Deum – William Walton
Coronation March – Arnold Bax