Vegetarian quiche, recycled crowns and a shortened ceremony, in many ways Charles III has decided to innovate for his coronation, which is being held this Saturday, May 6. Traditional pillars of this ceremony, the different music that we will hear also have their share of (small) novelties.
We knew the new music-loving king, we learned from the palace these days that His Majesty Charles III had "supervised, influenced and had been personally involved in the commissioning and details of the musical program, which will present and celebrate the musical talents across the UK and beyond". Triumphant choirs, blaring trumpets, influences from musicals, Welsh and even harp… Overview of what awaits our ears.
Integral parts of the century-old ritual and its emotional side, the classics will be present. And in particular THE absolute hit of this ceremony and of English coronations since that of George II: "Zadok the Priest", by Georg Friedrich Handel.
One of four Coronation Anthems created by the Baroque composer, born in Prussia in 1685 but naturalized English, for the accession of the king on October 22, 1727 at Westminster Abbey. For nine coronations now, the choir has cried out at the moment of the anointing of the new sovereign, the most sacred moment of the ceremony: "God save the King, long life to the King, may the King live for eternity!" Lyrics inspired by an Old Testament story. This anthem is so popular – it will no doubt ring a bell even if you weren't old enough to attend England's last coronation, that of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 – that it inspired Tony Britten in 1992 to the Champions League.
Among the classics that we will also hear, former Prince Charles should make his entry into Westminster Abbey on "I Was Glad" (from Psalm 122), a hymn used at the opening of coronation ceremonies since that of another Charles, the II, in 1661. Its most famous version, that composed by Hubert Parry in 1902 for the coronation of Edward II, was notably played for the ascent of the aisle of a certain Catherine Middleton during her marriage to Prince William.
And the king's exit, after the national anthem, will be on "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar (1857-1934). It is March No. 4 (1907) that will be played this Saturday, but the first (chosen by Elizabeth II for her coronation), which dates from 1901, should evoke some memories for you (from 1'56” on this video after a very jumpy start). Other traditional composers are also on the program, such as William Byrd, Strauss or Weelkes.
But the new monarch also printed his paw in the air that we will hear during the coronation. We can for example hear Greek Orthodox songs in tribute to his father Prince Philip, born Philip of Greece.
He has also commissioned twelve new works (six orchestral, five choirs and one for organ) especially for this Saturday, May 6, including some from personalities well known to the general public. The new coronation anthem, "Make a Joyful Noise" (sic) according to Psalm 98, will for example be signed by the British Andrew Lloyd Webber, famous for having written the musicals Cats, Evita or even The Phantom of the Opera . We can hear it at the time of the enthronement of Queen Camilla.
Patrick Doyle, British composer notably in the cinema for the 4th opus of Harry Potter, imagined a new march and the Briton Paul Mealor (who had already written a motet for the wedding of Kate and William) was chosen to write the first work in Welsh to ring for a coronation.
Another first, the unprecedented number of female composers summoned for this occasion. They are five to have been called upon: Judith Weir, "King's Music Master", whose work will open the celebrations in preview of the service, Sarah Class, Shirley J. Thompson, Roxanna Panufnik for the Sanctus and the composer for cinema and television Debbie Wiseman, who for the first time includes a gospel choir in a hallelujah.
To interpret such a musical program, the number of musicians and choristers is most consequent. A Coronation Orchestra has been specially formed, bringing together members of formations placed under the patronage of the man who was Prince of Wales for 64 years, a record, such as the Philharmonia Orchestra, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, or the Welsh National Opera Orchestra. This one-day orchestra will be conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano.
Opening the ceremony, conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner will conduct his English Baroque Soloists and his Monteverdi Choir, some of whose members will also sing during the service. Military bands are also on the program.
As for the soloists, we note the presence of the Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel who will interpret the unpublished creation in his language of the composer and baritone Roderick Williams, born of a Welsh father and a Jamaican mother, who will sing a work that he co-composed with Nigel Hess and Shirley Thompson, or even that of the official royal harpist – a function reinstated by Prince Charles in 2000 – Alis Huws, also a Welshwoman, who has held this position since 2019.
But the one that will attract all eyes is the South African soprano Pretty Yende. A rising star of classical music, she will have the privilege of being the first to sing "Sacred Fire", the creation of Sarah Class, as a prelude to the ceremony. Born in a township in 1985, she claims to be the first African singer to have a soloist role at a coronation ceremony in England.
This coronation will be the occasion of another first: a coronation album, recorded at Westminster Abbey by Decca Records. Lasting 4 hours, it will be available on CD on May 15, and from the same day in digital version for the impatient.
Those allergic to so-called art music have not been forgotten as a "coronation celebration playlist" has been published on Spotify by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport. A selection that we can politely qualify as wise. There are 26 tracks like a kind of cutesy best-of of the last sixty years to "celebrate British and Commonwealth artists", bringing together the best of English pop (the Beatles, David Bowie, Queen or the Spice Girls ), but also more lukewarm (Coldplay, Ed Sheeran). Surprisingly, there are no emblematic representatives of one of the most English musical currents of the last century, the punk Sex Pistols and their, however timely, "God Save the Queen".