King Charles coronation: story behind new music for Westminster Abbey ceremony - including Andrew Lloyd Webber

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Orchestras from the UK and Canada will unite as the Coronation Orchestra

New music commissions have been written for King Charles’ coronation service at Westminster Abbey. The coronation will take place for The King and The Queen Consort on Saturday, May 6.

The music commissions will offer a contemporary spin on traditional pieces, with several world-class composers having worked on them. The artists who have worked on the pieces are renowned in the classical, film, television and musical theatre genres.

A range of different orchestras from the UK and Canada will come together to form what will be known as the Coronation Orchestra. This is at His Majesty’s request, as he is a life-long music enthusiast and champion of the arts.

The first pre-service commission will be a short overture called Brighter Visions Shine Afar, composed by Judith Weir, Master of the King’s Music. Of the piece, Weir said: “The opening passage highlights the horns, an instrument historically associated in music and art with nobility. The title borrowed from the Christmas hymn ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ and the optimistic rising scales of the music suggest renewal and hope for the future.”

What are the new music commissions?

New pieces have been added to the lineup of music that will be performed at the service. Here’s a round-up of the pieces and who will be performing at the coronation in May.

  • Tros y Garreg – Sir Karl Jenkins
  • Sacred Fire – Sarah Class
  • Be Thou my Vision - Triptych for Orchestra – Nigel Hess, Roderick Williams and Shirley J Thompson
  • Voices of the World – Iain Farrington
  • King Charles III Coronation March – Patrick Doyle
  • Coronation Kyrie – Paul Maelor
  • Alleluia (O Clap your Hands) and Alleluia (O Sing Praises) – Debbie Wiseman
  • Make a Joyful Noise – Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • Coronation Sanctus – Roxanna Panufnik
  • Angus Dei – Tarik O’Regan

Make a Joyful Noise – Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber and His Majesty sat down to discuss the composition of Make a Joyful Noise. Of the piece, Lloyd Webber said: “I had the good fortune to discuss the text with His Majesty The King. We discussed the writings of Solomon and I suggested adapting Psalm 98 with its message of “Make A Joyful Noise unto the Lord, the King”.

“It seems so appropriate to the moment in the Coronation service. I played, and tried to sing, my early score for The King a few weeks ago. I have composed a short opening and closing fanfare, which will be played by the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Royal Air Force. The anthem is scored for the wonderful Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Coronation Orchestra.”

Agnus Dei

Tarik O’Regan’s commission, Angus Dei, was written for a reflective moment during the coronation service. Of the significance of the piece, O’Regan said: “I wanted to explore influences from my own varied heritages within the context of the Agnus Dei in the British choral tradition: a unison melody is slowly fragmented to create myriad timbres, much as one might hear in some Arab or Irish traditional music.

“This melodic shifting is also reminiscent of ‘phase music’, strongly connected with San Francisco, where I wrote this work. Finally, there is an alternating verse anthem structure: a nod to Orlando Gibbons, who became Organist of Westminster Abbey exactly 400 years ago.”

King Charles III Coronation March

The King Charles III Coronation March was written by film composer Patrick Doyle. The piece was composed to celebrate the life of His Majesty.

It will open with a bold opening which will then speed up in pace to reflect the passing of time. A strong Celtic influence will be carried by the piece.

The third part will become joyous before moving into a romantic, reflective sequence that will build to a triumphant finale. Speaking about the March, Patrick Doyle said: “The composition can be described as an Overture March in that it tells a story, and at times reflects aspects of His Majesty’s own character.

“Overall, the piece is jubilant and uplifting. It is written to embrace the excitement and celebration of the historic day.”

Who is performing at the King’s Coronation 2023?

These orchestras will form what will be known as the Coronation Orchestra, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano and led by Vasko Vassilev. The musicians performing the orchestral commissions are:

  • Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales
  • Regina Symphony Orchestra
  • English Chamber Orchestra
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra
  • Royal Opera House Orchestra
  • Welsh National Opera Orchestra

The Ascension Choir

The Ascension Choir marks the first gospel choir to perform at a coronation and they along with the Westminster Abbey Choir, will perform the two-part composition Alleluia (O Clap your Hands) and Alleluia (O Sing Praises). These pieces were composed by Debbie Wiseman and will be performed by the choirs.

Speaking about her compositions, Wiseman said: “The Coronation is a solemn religious ceremony and the natural inclination is to go for a reverential hymn-like approach, but I was keen to make this piece, above all, joyful and celebratory of the new King and the new era. Part of the liturgical text says “O sing unto God with the voice of melody” and when my melodies are sung by the wonderful voices of the world-renowned Choir of Westminster Abbey, I can’t absolutely confirm they’ll reach heaven but they’ll certainly raise the roof.”

On writing for The Ascension Choir, Wiseman said: “This supremely professional, talented and experienced choir (comprising 4 male singers and 4 female singers) – the first gospel choir, of course, to perform at a Coronation - will warm everyone’s hearts.”

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