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Coronation Music Gets a Modern Twist, but Tradition Reigns

By Michael Vincent on May 8, 2023

The King’s coronation drew a massive audience of 20.4 M viewers this weekend. The music featured a mix of traditional and modern styles performed by girl choristers, a gospel choir, and a first-ever Greek Orthodox choir.

With 12 new compositions, did tradition or contemporary tastes win the day?

The Musical Showdown

  • Sir Hubert Parry’s “I was Glad” triumphed, with a magnificent performance by the Abbey and Chapel Royal Choirs, girl choristers, and orchestra.
  • Lord Lloyd-Webber’s new Coronation anthem, “Make a Joyful Noise” went head-to-head with Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” but couldn’t quite outshine the classic.
  • New compositions by Debbie Wiseman, Roxana Panufnik, and Tarik O-Regan added intimacy, modernist harmonies, and diverse influences to the ceremony.

Star Performances

  • Bryn Terfel’s heartfelt rendition of Paul Mealor’s Welsh-language “Kyrie Eleison” and Roderick Williams’ moving “Confortare, Be Strong” stood out.
  • The choirs shone in William Byrd’s “Prevent us O Lord” and William Walton’s “Coronation Te Deum.”

Overall Impressions

Though the King aimed for a more diverse and inclusive ceremony, tradition ultimately took center stage. The seamless blending of old and new compositions showcased the enduring power of classical music and its ability to adapt to changing times.

A deeper look: Coronation music dates to medieval times, with sacred and regal compositions accompanying the crowning of monarchs. The tradition continued through the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods, with notable composers like Handel creating iconic works such as “Zadok the Priest” for British coronations. In the 20th century, composers like Hubert Parry contributed to the rich tapestry of coronation music with anthems like “I was Glad.” Modern coronations now seek to blend traditional elements with contemporary and diverse musical styles, incorporating pieces from various cultural backgrounds.

Michael Vincent
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