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Music for the Royal Wedding

Friday, 29th April 2011

Music for the Royal Wedding

James O’Donnell, Westminster Abbey’s Organist and Master of the Choristers, offers a special preview of the music that will accompany today’s marriage service of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales with Miss Catherine Middleton.

The choral and non-choral works, taken together, represent a wide range of styles and genres, and give particular emphasis to British music.

Music before the service

James McVinnie, Assistant Organist of Westminster Abbey, plays a recital of organ music including Veni Creator Spiritus by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of The Queen’s Music, and the first two movements of Elgar’s Sonata for Organ Op 28.

The London Chamber Orchestra, of which HRH The Duchess of Cornwall is Patron, conducted by Christopher Warren-Green, plays a varied selection of British orchestral music, including works by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Benjamin Britten and Gerald Finzi.

The Procession of HM The Queen

The music of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry features prominently in the Wedding Service. For this important procession the London Chamber Orchestra plays Parry’s March from his Suite for Aristophanes’s The Birds, also known as the ‘Bridal March’, which was also played just before the arrival of HRH The Princess Elizabeth for her Wedding service in Westminster Abbey in 1947.

The Procession of the Bride

The music chosen to accompany the entrance of the Bride is Hubert Parry’s great setting of verses from Psalm 122: ‘I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord’. This was originally composed for the Coronation of Edward VII in 1907 and has since taken its place as one of the masterpieces of ceremonial music. In this version the choirs and orchestra are joined for the opening and closing sections by the fanfare trumpeters of the RAF Central Band, creating an impressive and rousing beginning to the Wedding service.

The Hymns

The first two congregational hymns, ‘Guide me O thou great Redeemer’ and ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’, are both strong Welsh melodies. The arrangements were made for this occasion by James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey, who conducts the Choirs of Westminster Abbey and HM Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace during the service. The third hymn, ‘Jerusalem’, to the music of Hubert Parry, is in the orchestral arrangement by Edward Elgar.

The Anthem

The anthem, ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made’, was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster for the service. The music is by John Rutter, and the text is a selection of verses from the Psalms. The words ask God to bless and protect the Couple. The anthem is for choir and organ. John Rutter is one of the most celebrated and popular composers of choral music today, and has written music for many important occasions. His music is known for its tunefulness and approachability.

The Motet

‘Ubi caritas’ is a traditional Latin liturgical text particularly associated with the Eucharist of Maundy Thursday, although it is highly appropriate for a wedding service. ‘Where charity and love are to be found, God is there.’ Paul Mealor is a young Welsh composer whose music is becoming known for its luminous and atmospheric style. Originally a setting of words by Tennyson which the couple had heard while they were at St Andrews University, Mealor had also created this version using the sacred Latin text. It is an intense and highly expressive setting for unaccompanied choir.

The Signing of the Registers

At this point we hear one of Hubert Parry’s greatest works: his setting of Milton’s Ode ‘Blest pair of Sirens’. The work was composed in 1887 at the invitation of Charles Villiers Stanford and established Parry as the leading composer of choral music of his day. In rich musical language, much influenced by Wagner, it beautifully expresses the symbolism of Milton’s poem, in which the relationship of humankind with God is expressed in terms of music and, specifically, song. It is scored for eight-part choir and orchestra.

The Procession of the Bride and Bridegroom

The processional music chosen by the Couple is Sir William Walton’s March ‘Crown Imperial’, originally composed for the Coronation of George VI (1937). It combines rhythmic vitality with a central melody of sweeping nobility and a thrilling final coda, here augmented by fanfare trumpeters.

Music after the Service

The great Toccata, from the 5th Symphony in F for Organ by Charles-Marie Widor is played by Robert Quinney, Sub-Organist of Westminster Abbey. Widor was for many years organiste titulaire of the Church of St-Sulpice, Paris and composed prolifically. This is his most celebrated work, and its popularity as a wedding recessional owes much to its brilliance and sheer joie de vivre.

There follows an organ arrangement by Iain Farrington of Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ March no 5 which rounds off the music for the wedding service in the grand English ceremonial style but also with exuberance and even a hint of humour.

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It’s very hard not to be enthusiastic working at the Abbey. If this place doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what will.


Valerie - Foundation Director

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