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.
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: