Royal Weddings: The best classical music choices
We look back over some of our favourite classical musical memories from previous royal weddings
The Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (2018): Motet 'If ye love me' (Tallis)
The choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor had few windows in which to shine at Harry and Meghan’s wedding but, goodness, did they shine in Tallis’s sublime two-minute motet. Tallis keeps things simple throughout, with a mix of straight-forward homophonic writing and delicately-scored counterpoint. And it was performed with exquisite poise, perfect tuning and beautiful restraint.
The Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer (1981): 'Let the Bright Seraphim' (Handel)
From the stunning overhead shots of a wedding dress train that seemed to stretch half the length of St Paul’s Cathedral to the nervous bride coming unstuck with the names Charles, Philip, Arthur and George, memories of the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer still linger strongly. For music lovers, those memories include, during the signing of the register, a radiantly joyful performance of ‘Let the bright Seraphim’ from Handel’s Samson. Doing the honours alongside the Bach Choir was New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, who was immediately propelled to superstardom.
- Royal Wedding 2018: Who is performing at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding?
- Music at Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding
The Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (2011): Ubi Caritas (Paul Mealor)
Paul Mealor came to the world’s attention in 2011, when his Ubi Caritas was performed at Westminster Abbey. The gig was as high profile as it gets: the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. ‘The attention it brought has been phenomenal,’ Mealor told BBC Music Magazine, ‘I’ve had a lot of letters and e-mails from people which I’d never really received before. And from all over the world, too – I’ve had 15,000 emails! It’s been amazing.’
The warm, meditative anthem, so beautifully performed at the royal occasion by the Choir of Westminster Abbey, and the Choir of Her Majesty's Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace and James O’Donnell, sets the words of an early Christian hymn: ‘Where charity and love are, God is there. Let us come together in God's love and let us love each other with a sincere heart.’
The Wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones (1999): 'Crown Imperial' (Walton)
Walton’s most regal anthem has become a bit of a go-to piece for royal occasions since its first airing at the 1937 coronation of King George VI, for which it was composed. When Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys Jones at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on 19 June 1999, the music was chosen as recessional music (alongside the Toccata from Widor’s fifth symphony). It was also used for William and Kate’s exit from Westminster Abbey in 2011.
The Funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (2002): Prelude and Fugue in E flat BWV552 (Bach)
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s funeral at Westminster Abbey was part mourning, part celebration of a full, dutiful life, mirrored in the abundant music. Purcell’s Funeral Sentences, a movement from Brahms’s Requiem, the hymn Cwm Rhondda plus anthems by Williams McKee and Harris (amongst much else) were rounded off by one of Bach’s greatest and longest preludes and fugues: the magnificent three-part E-flat BWV 552. Grand French influences combine with filigree counterpoint and a final fugal section that sees Bach in full majesty as the principal theme thunders forth on the pedals.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.