David Starkey’s Music & Monarchy

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dir. Peter Sweasey
ALBUM TITLE: David Starkey’s Music & Monarchy
WORKS: David Starkey’s Music & Monarchy
PERFORMER: Presented by David Starkey


The sumptuous, well crafted BBC series marking the 60th anniversary of the Coronation finds historian and presenter David Starkey on a familiar televisual trek round an array of significant sites. He explores the many ways in which monarchs have utilised and interacted with music and musicians since the days of Agincourt – whether the context is religion, war, ceremony or the reflection of Britain’s status in the world. British royals, we learn, have long been a pretty musical lot, whether musicians or composers themselves or dedicated consumers of live music at home or in public.

Not the least of Starkey’s achievements is to bring each monarch vividly to life, although composers as their servants are as central – not just giants such as Handel, Purcell and Elgar, but many (regrettably) less familiar names to casual classical music followers. The line-up of performers featured playing key repertoire is first-class: cathedral and chapel choirs plus ensembles like the Academy of Ancient Music and Fretwork. They’ll perhaps be miffed at the lack of on-screen performer credits during each programme.

Yes, Starkey’s style carries that familiar self-importance, but his energy, passion and erudition carry the day, even if tending to over-impose himself on the excellent (if almost exclusively male) cast of interviewees.

There are slips – was Elgar really a ‘northerner’? And omissions were inevitable given time-constraints: no corner is found for music’s place around the British Empire, for example. No matter. If you have the stamina, use the DVDs to swallow the series whole for the real sweep of a story expertly told.


Andrew Green