Four pieces of music especially composed for kings and queens

Discover the music dedicated to four of Britain's leading monarchs from throughout history, from Elizabeth I in the 16th-century to today's Elizabeth II

Four pieces of music especially composed for reigning monarchs

The Triumphs of Oriana (1601)

In 1601, Thomas Morley got 22 of his fellow composers, including Thomas Weelkes, Thomas Tomkins and Ellis Gibbons, to write a madrigal for a new collection. Each of the 25 madrigals (Morley and Gibbons wrote two each) was to contain the line ‘Thus sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana: long live fair Oriana’. Oriana, it’s believed, referred to Elizabeth I. The exercise was repeated by Master of the Queen’s Music Sir Walter Parratt in 1899, whose tribute to Queen Victoria contained the work of 13 composers, including Elgar, Stanford and Parry.

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Purcell’s They that go down to the sea in ships (1685)

When John Gostling, a leading bass of his day, was invited to join Charles II for a trip on the latter’s yacht ‘Fubbs’, he clearly wasn’t prepared for the severe storm that blew up mid-voyage. We don’t know whether the King and his entourage really were in danger – but so relieved was Gostling to set foot on dry land, that he commissioned Henry Purcell to set a selection of suitably maritime psalm verses in celebration of their collective safety.

Elgar’s Coronation Ode (1902)

It was for Queen Victoria’s heir, Edward VII, that the Covent Garden Grand Opera Syndicate commissioned Elgar to write a six-part Coronation Ode for soloists, chorus and orchestra, intended to be performed on the eve of the big day itself. The new King suggested that Elgar’s librettist AC Benson might like to add words for the Ode’s rousing final part – and so came to being ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

A Garland for the Queen (1953)

A 20th-century equivalent of The Triumphs of Oriana  arrived in 1953, when ten British composers set works by ten contemporary British poets to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II. The resulting collaborations saw Vaughan Williams setting ‘Silence and Music’ by his new wife, Ursula Wood, Howells bringing his inimitable touch to Walter de la Mare’s ‘Inheritance’ and Finzi (above) wallowing in the joys of Edmund Blunden’s ‘White-Flowering Days’.

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