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8.557032-33 - THREE ELIZABETHS (THE): A Musical Celebration of Britain through the Centuries
English 

The Three Elizabeths
A Musical Celebration of Britain through the Centuries

 

Elizabeth I: 'The Virgin Queen' (1533-1603)

The second daughter of Henry VIII by his second queen, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister Mary to the throne in 1558, reigning until her death in 1603. At the English court, music had considerable importance. At a time of disturbing religious changes, after the Calvinism encouraged under Edward VI, with its metrical psalms, and the return to Catholicism under Mary, Elizabeth set a course of compromise, in which religion and politics, internal and external, were closely associated.

At the heart of church music was the Chapel Royal, with its well-paid gentlemen and boy singers. Queen Elizabeth resisted Puritan pressure that would have banished music, preserving in the church that she now headed a measure of ritual and music of the highest standard, using this to impress her subjects and visiting emissaries. Secular music also had its own dynastic importance. The Queen had been taught the importance of music in a ruler and herself played the virginals, and perhaps the lute, as contemporary portraits suggest. She was fond of dancing and even in old age joined in a galliard, to the disapproval of the Spanish ambassador, who took it amiss that the Head of the Church in England and Ireland should so disport herself.

While standards of church music were maintained in the Chapel Royal, at Westminster Abbey and at St Paul's, and the court danced, there were, in Elizabethan England, increased chances for musical performance of a less formal kind. This was found particularly in the English madrigal, naturalised from its Italian origins, in keyboard music and in music for consorts, ensembles of similar or diverse instruments, notably viols. At the same time there flourished an English form of the lute song, while the lute itself, in its many manifestations, enjoyed great popularity and varied degrees of expertise in performance, from the professional to the ambitious amateur. In the theatre too there was a place for music in songs and dances.

By training a viola-player, a pupil of Lionel Tertis, Eric Coates abandoned his career as an orchestral player in 1919 to follow that of a composer of light music. In this latter field he won great popularity, but it was in reaction to a perceived growing division between light and more serious music that in 1944 he wrote his suite The Three Elizabeths. The first movement, Halcyon Days, was originally a concert overture, suggesting an age of heroism and exploration.

Robert Farrant started his career as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal under Edward VI, continuing under Queen Mary. In 1564 he became Master of the Choristers at St George's Chapel, Windsor, and in 1569 returned to the Chapel Royal as Master of the Choristers. At St George's, and later in conjunction with the Chapel Royal, he provided court entertainment from child actors, the choristers in his charge. The song 'Ah, alas you salt-sea gods' is a traditional dramatic lament from his lost play King Xerxes.

The supreme exponent of the lute and the lute-song was the composer John Dowland. It was perhaps his religion as a Catholic, that delayed any court appointment in England until 1612, after years spent in the service of the King of Denmark. His golden locks to silver now are turned was performed in the tiltyard at Westminster on the anniversary of the Queen's Accession in 1590, when the Queen's Champion, Sir Henry Lee, retired.

Robert Parsons became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1563, but was drowned seven years later, his death bringing to an end a career of great promise. His compositions include a considerable contribution to viol consort repertoire, of which his five-part De Ia court is an outstandingly popular example.

The English lutenist Thomas Robinson enjoyed the patronage of the powerful Cecil family, important ministers under Queen Elizabeth. His activity as a teacher, exemplified in a publication of 1603, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth's successor, James I of England, introduced modification of lute technique. The duet for master and pupil, The Queen's Goodnight, was presumably written for the new queen, Anne of Denmark, whom he had taught before her marriage.

In a life of some eighty years, Thomas Tallis served for some forty years as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. As a Catholic he contributed notably to the Latin liturgy and was among the first composers to provide musical settings for the Anglican liturgy. His Solfing Song, heard here from a consort of five viols, suggests in its title that it was intended for the vocal practice of sol-fa.

The most distinguished of all composers in the England of Queen Elizabeth was the Catholic recusant William Byrd, a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1570, when he replaced Robert Parsons, and the recipient with Thomas Tallis of a royal patent for the printing and sale of part-music and music paper in 1575. Versatile in his compositions in many forms, his Fair Britain Isle is a consort song, for voice and four viols, a lament, written in 1612, on the death of the heir to the throne, Prince Henry.

It was about the year 1603, under the new King, that Orlando Gibbons became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, where by 1615 he had become organist, a position he later held at Westminster Abbey. He died when he was with the Chapel Royal in Canterbury, where the new King, Charles I, awaited the arrival of his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. The silver swanne is included in The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets, apt for Viols and Voyces of 1612.

John Wilbye spent his life in the service of the Kytson family at Hengrave Hall, near Bury St Edmunds. He published his first book of madrigals in 1598 and a second in 1609. Weep, weep mine eyes, included in the latter, explores the humour of melancholy, a feeling much affected from the 1590s onwards, as in the playwright Ben Jonson's 1598 success, Every Man in His Humour. Melancholy had a particular appeal to musicians and poets of the period.

In 1955 the veteran English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was invited to write music for a film marking a second Elizabethan age with the coronation in 1953 of Queen Elizabeth II. The England of Elizabeth celebrates the explorer Sir Francis Drake, the poet Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I herself. The second movement, Poet, finds a place for two Shakespearean songs, 'The wind and the rain' from Twelfth Night and 'It was a lover and his lass' from As You Like It.

 

Elizabeth of Glamis, The Queen Mother (1900-2002)

Elizabeth Bowes Lyon was the ninth child of Lord Glamis, a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce, who soon inherited the title of 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. Her marriage in 1923 to the then Duke of York, second son of George V, brought a more public career as a member of the royal family, but the relative serenity of her married life was interrupted and changed irrevocably, after the death of the King, by the abdication of Edward VIII and the unexpected accession to the throne of her husband as George VI, who was crowned king in 1937. The war years, during which the King and Queen remained in London, gave the royal couple a chance to bolster feelings of national patriotism, not least by their visits to areas of bombing and by their own steadfast example of duty and shared hardship. The strains of war-time seem to have weakened the King's health and in 1952 he died. From then onwards Queen Elizabeth, now the Queen Mother, a title of her own choice, found her own place in the life of the country, supporting her family and her daughter, the new Queen Elizabeth, and giving encouragement to many activities, including the arts, a significant contribution that has often been overlooked. As patron of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra she was present at the first English performance by Gregor Piatigorsky of William Walton's Cello Concerto. She was also a guest at the Downing Street dinner given by Sir Edward Heath to mark Walton's seventieth birthday. Her association with the King's Lynn Festival of her friend Ruth, Lady Fermoy, brought a strong connection with Benjamin Britten and Aldeburgh, and the composer was invited to stay with her at Sandringham. To celebrate her 75th birthday her daughter had asked Britten, now nearing the end of his own life, to compose a present for her mother. This was Britten's A Birthday Hansel, settings of poems by Burns for tenor and harp. For her eightieth birthday Prince Charles had arranged a special musical tribute from a group of younger composers, while her own support for the arts and genuine interest continued. In 1950, as Queen, she had attended a Royal Philharmonic Society concert by the Hallé Orchestra at which John Barbirolli had been presented with the Society's Gold Medal. Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose Sixth Symphony had been played at the concert, was among those entertained afterwards. As his wife reported, he found the Queen 'very nice and so much prettier than her photographs and she listened intelligently and her voice was easy to hear'. It was this sympathetic and intelligent interest in the arts, and, indeed, in other aspects of national life, that characterized the life of the Queen Mother, as she was known for half a century. In the words of her grandson, Prince Charles, she was 'the original life enhancer, whether publicly or privately, whoever she was with… at once indomitable, somehow timeless, able to span the generations'.

Spring Time in Angus, dedicated to the Queen in 1944, reflects the Queen Mother's inherited love of Scotland, parts of her childhood spent at the ancestral Glamis Castle and of her widowhood at the Castle of Mey in Caithness or at Balmoral. Eric Coates here wrote a short tone poem, its Scottish inspiration evident in the melodies and rhythms used.

Sir Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs was concocted in the space of three weeks in 1905 to mark Trafalgar Day. It was included the following year in the last night of the Promenade Concerts, in their tenth year of existence at the Queen's Hall, and has remained an inevitable part of the last night of the season ever since, conducted there by the composer himself until the destruction of the hall in an air-raid in 1941. The Fantasia includes the euphonium The Saucy Arethusa ; Tom Bowling for cello; Jack's the Lad with a solo violin, a hornpipe; Farewell ye Spanish Ladies for trombones; Home Sweet Home for oboe; the French horn See the conqu'ring hero comes and a final rousing Rule Britannia.

The Canadian-born composer Robert Farnon has made his home in England since the war brought him to Europe with the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force. His light-hearted Derby Day is included to reflect the Queen Mother's interest in the turf.

William Walton had his first experience of writing music for the cinema in 1934 with Escape Me Never, starring Elisabeth Bergner, and he acquired, over the following years, some skill in the art. His Spitfire Prelude and Fugue is taken from music he wrote for the 1942 film The First of the Few, which deals with the development of the fighter plane, the Spitfire, which was of such importance in the defence of Britain.

Eric Coates wrote The Dam Busters March for the 1954 film of that name. The march won enormous success and retains its national popularity. The film deals with the daring raids of ten years earlier on dams in Germany and the invention of the so-called 'bouncing bomb'.

 

Elizabeth II, The Queen (b. 1926)

The reign of Queen Elizabeth II, heralded as a second Elizabethan age after her accession in 1952, has justified the comparison with a musical flowering stemming from the work of composers earlier in the century, from Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams to Michel Tippett and Benjamin Britten and latterly to a prolific group of younger composers. In 1948 Michael Tippett had written A Birthday Suite to mark the birth of the Queen's first child, Prince Charles, and in 1953 the coronation itself was marked, unusually in English or British history, by the creation of a new opera, Benjamin Britten's Gloriana, a work first proposed by the Queen's cousin, the Earl of Harewood. In June came a composite work, a set of variations on the Elizabethan Sellinger's Round, found in a keyboard theme and variations by William Byrd, the leading composer in England in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Those who contributed to the work, first heard in Aldeburgh, were Arthur Oldham, Michael Tippett, Lennox Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Humphrey Searle and William Walton. The year also brought A Garland for the Queen, to which a number of composers also contributed. The royal connection with Aldeburgh, already established through the Queen Mother, continued when the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, opened the new concert hall at Snape Maltings in June 1967. Two years later the Maltings burned down, but was rebuilt with miraculous speed, so that the Queen could again attend the opening concert of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1970, when songs from Gloriana were included in the programme. Among Britten's last works were a Welcome Ode, first sung after his death by Suffolk children to welcome a royal visit to Suffolk in the silver jubilee year of 1977.

The musical achievements in Britain during the last fifty years have been remarkable. Opera has flourished both in London and the rest of the country on a way that could never have been foreseen. At the same time there has been a wide interest in music, stimulated both by recording companies and by active patronage and live concerts. Latterly there has even seemed to be a gradual bridging of the gap between general popular musical taste, at least in the world of classical music, and the work of contemporary composers, as melody returns once more, after the remoter experimentation of those who could afford to eschew popular support.

'Youth of Britain' from The Three Elizabeths of Eric Coates is a march, inspired by the then eighteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth, now Queen. It is briskly cheerful, in a style that Coates made familiar. William Walton had provided a march, Crown Imperial, to be performed at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of George VI in 1937. For the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 he was commissioned to write a setting of the Te Deum for choir and orchestra, heard here in the arrangement by Simon Preston with Mark Blatchly's reduction of the orchestral part for organ. The work is one of fitting grandeur, apt for a state occasion, perhaps in spite of its echoes of the composer's earlier Belshazzar's Feast.

Hubert Parry's anthem I was glad when they said unto me comes from an earlier generation. A setting of Psalm CXXII, it was written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, but has continued to form part of the coronation service. Again it is apt for the occasion, but, like Walton's later work, has moments of contrast, here in a prayer for peace.

The Yorkshire-born composer Haydn Wood, still widely remembered for his Roses of Picardy, started his career as a violinist. Marriage to a singer was part of the reason for the attention he later chose to give to lighter music. His suite London Cameos ends with 'A State Ball at Buckingham Palace', perhaps written with the other two movements of the suite in 1942 but not published until 1957, two years before the composer's death. The ball depicted is a delightful affair in the best light music vein. Robert Farnon's State Occasion, written in 1953, is in the characteristic British grandiose mood of pomp and circumstance, hallowed by Elgar and continued by Walton and others. It was played by the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines during the Queen's tour of Famon's native Canada in 1984, when the bicentennial of New Bmnswick was celebrated. The jubilee celebration ends with the triumphant and spirited march Orb and Sceptre, written for the Queen's coronation in 1953 and dedicated to her. It is a further example of Walton's mastery of the majestic idiom proper to occasions of high state and ceremony.

Keith Anderson

 


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