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Hear the music played at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral

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J-P Mauro - published on 09/20/22

The program drew together some of England's most esteemed composers, favorite hymns, and brand-new anthems composed for the day.

On Monday, September 19, 2022, the United Kingdom bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth II in a grand funeral service at Westminster Abbey. The day was marked by stupendous performances from England’s finest musicians, who paid loving tribute to their monarch with a collection of hymns and anthems that honored her musical tastes and the traditions of the royal family. 

Queen Elizabeth II was known for her love of music, which included a wide variety of genres from hymns to jazz standards and even show tunes. In fact, according to BBC,#1 on her top 10 list of favorite songs was Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” sung by Howard Keel

Queen Elizabeth reigned over a time of unprecedented musical advancement – both technological and stylistic – and England thrived under her guidance of this new cultural export. It is also telling from the dozens of musicians she named to the Order of the British Empire that she prized her nation’s artists.

These treasures of the English songbook, both present and past, came together for a wonderful display at the queen’s funeral. The program featured sacred music from many of England’s most celebrated composers, including Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Charles Villiers Stanford. The royal family even went so far as to commission two brand-new pieces that were written for the service itself. 

Original music

The first of these original pieces is a new setting of Psalm 42:1-7, composed by Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir. Weir’s comments on the piece were recorded by the classical music site Slippedisc

“For this funeral service, Westminster Abbey requested that I set to music the first seven verses of Psalm 42, ‘Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.’” Weir explained, “The words and music speak at first of the soul’s great sadness and thirst for God’s reassurance; but as the psalm progresses, the mood becomes calmer and more resolved, culminating in consolation, with the words ‘Put thy trust in God.’ The Queen’s strong faith in, and support of, Anglican worship was an inspiration for me when setting this psalm to music.”

The second original piece written for Queen Elizabeth II’s service was the closing anthem, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” by James MacMillan. This Scottish composer is one of the most respected contemporary musicians in the UK. He holds the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was named a Knight Bachelor by the Queen in 2015. 

In a tweet, MacMillan humbly thanked the crown for the opportunity to pay one last tribute to Queen Elizabeth: 

Strong emotions

There were many emotional moments during the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who ruled for the majority of most of the citizenry’s lives. One of these moments came right at the start of the funeral procession, when the choir erupted into song, singing the Sentences: 

Sung as the Queen’s coffin was carried on the shoulders of the pallbearers, these scriptural passages — John 11:25–26; Job 19:25–27; 1 Timothy 6:7; Job 1:21 — speak of death and the promise of resurrection. They mark the opening of the Anglican funeral service from the Book of Common Prayer, and have been sung at every royal funeral for three centuries. 

The choirs and musicians gave a fierce performance throughout the day, but some of the most touching pieces came at the end of the service. One of these was from a team of buglers who played “The Last Post” — the British equivalent of “Taps,” marking the end of the military day or the end of a life. This military tradition pays homage to the queen as commander of the British armed forces. After the song, the entire nation observed two minutes of silence for their monarch. 

“The Last Post” was followed by “Reveille” (again, the British version) which is traditionally played to wake troops up each morning. This song symbolically woke the nation up from its moment of silence, at which point everyone in attendance rose to sing the English anthem, “God Save the King.”

For our choice, however, the most emotional music of the day came from the Queen’s Piper playing her off with the traditional Scottish tune, “Sleep, Dearie, Sleep.” 

Not only is there something inherently mournful about a lone bagpipe sounding off, but the relationship the piper had with the queen created palpable emotions. The queen’s piper played below Queen Elizabeth’s window every morning to wake her up. This time, however, he played her off to her final sleep with the lilting tune. 

We’ve gone over some of the best – and newest – songs from Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, but there’s quite a bit more to hear. The playlist below contains every song performed at the funeral service, with exception of the Sentences and MacMillan’s and Weir’s original pieces, which, we suspect, will soon be recorded to honor the passing of the long-lived English monarch. The first 11 titles on the playlist were played by the organists as the congregation gathered, waiting for the funeral procession to reach Westminster Abbey. The last two selections were played as the coffin was carried out of the abbey before traveling in procession to St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle for burial.

Tags:
Christian MusicEnglandHymn
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