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Classical Sprouts: Coronation Anthems

Queen Elizabeth II poses in her coronation attire in the throne room of Buckingham Palace in London after her coronation on June 2, 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II poses in her coronation attire in the throne room of Buckingham Palace in London after her coronation on June 2, 1953.

From the tradition-filled itinerary to the crown itself, British coronation ceremonies are all about pomp and circumstance, and the music is no exception!

Before each coronation ceremony, the planning committee commissions famous composers to write lots of music for the big day.

One type of piece is especially important at each ceremony: the coronation anthem.

Coronation anthems are usually sung during important moments in the ceremony, like the soon-to-be-official monarch's entrance.

The music is bold and stately, joyously marking the grand occasion.

These extravagant ceremonies don't always proceed smoothly, though.

King Edward the VII - 1902

At Edward the VII's coronation, which had already been postponed due to an emergency appendix operation, the coronation anthem ended before the king arrived.

The organist had to improvise until Edward finally entered and the choir sang the anthem "I Was Glad" by Sir Hubert Parry again!

King Edward VII
Sir Samuel Luke Fildes painted King Edward VII's portrait shortly before his coronation.

King George V - 1911

Sir Edward Elgar wrote an anthem, a hymn and a march for George V's coronation, but he didn't show up at the ceremony!

No one knows why, even today!

Why do you think Elgar played hooky?

Send us a message with your theories!

King George V's coronation was the first to be photographed.

King George VI - 1937

King George VI didn't plan on becoming king; his older brother Edward VIII only ruled for about 10 months before he became the first monarch in England's history to abdicate.

George VI's coronation was the first in history to be filmed and broadcast live.

Watch some of the ceremony below and listen to the full episode to hear Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Festival Te Deum," written for the occasion.

Queen Elizabeth II - 1953

After her father's death in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II took the throne at just 25 years old.

Her coronation ceremony, which included a new version of "Te Deum" written by Sir William Walton, was the first to be televised!

“Zadok the Priest”

And finally, a coronation (post 1727) isn't complete without Handel's "Zadok the Priest."

He wrote it for King George II's coronation and it's been sung at every ceremony since!

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Classical Sprouts is produced by Emily Duncan Wilson. Kacie Brown is the digital content manager.

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.
Emily Duncan Wilson produces the Classical Sprouts podcast.