« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

Royal wedding: What the music says about William and Kate

April 29, 2011 |  7:55 am

After months of anticipation of the royal wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- as Prince William and Kate Middleton are now called -- tied the knot Friday morning at Westminster Abbey. The 75-minute service was exactly the mix of traditional and modern that bodes well for the future of the monarchy.

While the tall trees lining the aisle of the thousand-year-old Abbey were absolutely stunning, the music choices were rather uneven.

William and Kate's selection of Hubert Parry's anthem "I Was Glad" for the processional was inspired. Originally a coronation anthem, it represents all that is right and good about British pageantry. It is regal but never vulgar, attention-holding without ever hogging the spotlight from the main event -- in this case, a young bride on her way to marry her Prince Charming.

Photo gallery: Royal wedding coverage

The first hymn, "Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer" was a bit of an odd choice because it is most often sung at Welsh rugby matches these days, but perhaps that was part of the point. The lesson read by Kate's brother James and the prayer William and Kate wrote for the service emphasized their intention to serve the people. The hundreds of thousands of well-wishers singing along lustily outside to "Guide Me" as well as "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" and "Jerusalem" (also by Parry and most often sung at cricket matches) certainly felt that they were able to take part even outside the Abbey walls.

The two new commissions were "This Is the Day" by John Rutter and a setting of the "Ubi caritas" text by Welsh composer Paul Mealor. The Rutter was, well, Rutter. Pretty enough, easy for amateur choirs to sing, but immediately forgettable. There's nothing wrong with Rutter's compositions per se, it's just that once you've heard one, you've heard them all, so there's very little point to a new commission.

Considering the popularity of the lovely "Ubi caritas" setting by Maurice Duruflé, Paul Mealor had big shoes to fill. His music is gently dissonant and reminiscent of Eric Whitacre's work.

While William and Kate were signing the register, the choir sang "Blest Pair of Sirens," a title screaming to be abused by naughty choirboys. This anthem is by ... you guessed it ... Hubert Parry, one of Prince Charles' favorite composers.

On the way out, it was William Walton's "Crown Imperial" march, as reported Thursday, following the recession we predicted earlier in the week: Widor's "Toccata."

There was a lot of speculation before the wedding as to the identity of the soloist, with many fearing it would be Katherine Jenkins. In the end there was no soloist at all, or any psalm setting.

Royal wedding RELATED

Photo gallery: Royal wedding coverage

Royal wedding: Recessional music revealed

Wedding music fit for a prince and his bride

-- Marcia Adair


Comments () | Archives (32)

This was a day for William and Kate and this article was about the lush English ceremonial music which adds so much to the occasion. That every backwater and rat-infested Muslim hell-hole has not embraced democracy and free markets is not the fault of the British, who did their best to civilize the world. The rest of the world will have to start carrying their own water and stop looking to left-wing apologists to excuse their lethargy. Marxism has made its mark in the third world and it ain't pretty.

Some of the comments about Rutter's music are downright ignorant. Among his enormous output are many beautiful and sublime pieces that cannot be blithely dismissed with the comment that they "weren't particularly interesting to begin with and certainly haven't become more so after decades of overuse." I defy anyone to listen to, for example, "What Sweeter Music" and make that comment:

The author of this piece did a lazy job.

As other have noted William chose some of the songs in order to remember his Mother on this happy occasion in his life. William Walton's "Crown Imperial" march which they left the church to literally moved me to tears. Its one of the most beautiful songs I have heard. Also loved the one song the Archbishop commissioned as a gift to the couple.

The Rutter piece was fantastic!!! perfect for a wedding. The 'ubi caritas' by Mealor was a bit too somber.

The service also included a specially commissioned Fanfare for Brass entitled, "Valiant and Brave" composed by Royal Air Force Number 22 Squadron Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs, Principal Director of Music in the Royal Air Force.

The presence of such wonderful brass musicians was a highlight of the occasion for this viewer.

The music chosen for the ceremony was stunning. Ubi Caritas was my favorite and was absolutely beautiful -- it gave me chills. This is the Day and I Was Glad were both lovely and appropriate. Lovely lovely music and singing. I downloaded the Royal Wedding Album from Itunes as soon as it was available.

It was their wedding and they chose the music they wanted and liked for their personal reasons, and I found it all quite satisfying. There is no church music superior to the Church of England and they know how to perform perfectly to the glory of God.

Personally, I loved all of the music. Not sure why a British couple should outreach. Using British music, British designers and all else showed their partrioticsm and pride and I rather liked it. It was their wedding and their choices and I think they did a great job.

Yes, the Monarchy is rich, but so are Exxon, IBM (Trump) and other companies who, the last time I checked, get lots of tax breaks, but don't do much else with their money to help society. When the do nothing celebrity millionaires (Hilton, Kardashian, etc.), start doing charity work like many royals do, then we can talk.

.. the performers were all wonderful- I'd like to single out the Chamber Orchestra, here- and mention that while the first guests made their way into the Abbey- despite the talking.. I could hear the beautiful strains of Elgar's String Serenade. beautifully played.

Mark & Susan said, 'However, imagine the 21st Century faith message they would have sent as a couple if Matt Redman had led "Blessed Be Your Name," or if Tim Hughes had led "Here I Am To Worship," or if Delirious? had sung "History Maker."

Oh, I can imagine, alright. There are some of us left who really don't want to be insulted with bad, saccharin, pseudo-mystical modern 'church music', such as those penned by the Community of Celebration, the Songs of the St Louis Jesuits, and the 1st person/3d person pronoun conundrums that no one can sing; 'On Eagle's Wings', the Brady Bunch Hymn ('Here I Am Lord'), 'Open the Eyes of My Heart', and all of that ilk.

Thank God, literally, that there are some places where we can hear reverential, classical, sacred music, even if it isn't usually in our local parishes.

In response to Kate, I respect your views about contemporary church music although we don't agree. Much of today's contemporary praise & worship music is just as Bibically and theologically based as any music from any other era. The feel-good & sometimes self-centered music of the 1980s has been transformed into music that is relevant and theological to today's generation and to many of us from previous generations. Just to pick out a couple of examples: Vicky Beeching, a British singer/songwriter/worship leader has a theology degree from Oxford. (I regretfully neglected mentioning her in our original posting.) Matt Redman regularly writes from the Psalms as others have done for thousands of years. Many of the current Hillsong writers, most notably Reuben Morgan and Brooke Fraser Ligertwood, base their songs on Scripture and sound theology. Even one of the very first songs, Amy Grant's "Thy Word" has much of its text lifted directly from Psalm 119.

Church music has connected with worshippers for hundreds of years for exactly the same reason: writers took contemporary music of their era and added theological texts. A large percentage of the instrumental music of "The Messiah" was taken from Handel's secular operas. One could draw a parallel between the choruses in J.S. Bach's cantatas with modern praise & worship songs. They were simple, repetitive tunes designed for maximum participation by untrained singers in the congregation. Much of Mozart's church music was quite singable until the music world jacked up Concert A. Baroque music, in its original form, was (and should still be) just as improvisational as modern rock & roll or jazz. The tried & true A-B-A with bridge format has been relevant and successful since early in the baroque era.

I don't agree that this approach suddenly stopped in 1960? 1940? 1890? 1750? According to Time Magazine in 2008, over 40 million people world-wide sing a worship song written by Chris Tomlin. According to CCLI's downloading records, Reuben Morgan's "Mighty to Save" is sung by 18 million people every Sunday. I'm not afraid of the next Christian artist to sing a new worship song. I welcome relevance while honoring the past.

Although I posted that I had wished that William and Kate had chosen a contemporary worship song for one of their musical selections, I'm not worried or disappointed. They have a whole lifetime together as a Christian couple to be transformed as Godly people, just as my wife and I have been transformed and are still being transformed.

A word on the Parry: Watch Kate and her father processing from the front door. Listen to the music. It's an anthem specifically written for coronations at Westminster Abbey.

Notice when the Parry is loud and brassy, and when it is soft:

-- as they begin to process, there's a forte intro, almost a stern call to duty
-- as they go further down the aisle, there's a quieter, more piano section around the text "Jerusalem is builded," which then "builds" to
-- a drumroll and fanfare as Kate and her father pass through the rood screen, followed by
-- piano a capella as they walk through the choir (can't have the choir blast them as they go by), and then
-- a return to forte brass and drums after they go up the steps near the altar.

And of course the psalm text is all about processing through open doors -- "our feet shall stand within thy gates."

The Parry is remarkably crafted and perfectly timed. It makes its musical points at exactly the right moments during a procession up the Westminster Abbey aisle.

Very little music is as well suited to its task.

« | 1 2


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.