On New Music and the Royal Wedding II…

November 9th, 2016

It is nearly two weeks since the “event of the year” (as referred to by the media and miscellaneous others) and as good a time as any to assess the impact of this event, and more specifically the music in the service – especially the new and nearly new pieces. Firstly, regardless of your point of view on the Monarchy, republicanism and the all-pervading nature of this event, you have to agree that as a spectacle it was unrivalled – pageant, pomp, ceremony and a high degree of campness all rolled into one. In many ways it is what we can do best in this country and alongside red telephone boxes, drinking tea and the questionable involvement in overseas conflict; it is what we are known best for. It certainly gave me an uncomfortable sense of pride.

So the music…

Well having spent much of the previous week defending John Rutter (“leading choral composer of our generation” etc) I felt sorely let down and a little red-faced after hearing his anthem This is the day. There was nothing necessarily wrong with it, but it seemed to lack any real inspiration and was (to my mind) instantly forgettable – perhaps not the best wedding present ever? Something like a set of fruit knives. I did feel a little sorry for him, because the vitriol that came his way from the musical cognoscenti on various media was very harsh, but then perhaps he should have written a better piece? For those who want to hear Rutter at his best (and least Rutterish) check out Hymn to the Creator of Light.

The inclusion of a piece by the Welsh composer Paul Mealor was somewhat from the left field but a nice gesture and thus makes him something of a William Mathais for a new generation. When I wrote about who might be commissioned for the wedding, I never suspected it would be Mealor and I was nicely surprised by this. His work Ubi caritas was far more interesting and memorable than the Rutter though ultimately left me feeling a little underwhelmed. That being said, what it did highlight was the sound of contemporary British choral music (of a certain school) and to hear that in a major national event was very heartening.

Again, I am staggered by the bravery of the establishment (a broad term, but you get the gist) to constantly include new and nearly new pieces in major occasions. It happened when the Pope visited, it happened here, it happens every year with the King’s College Christmas broadcast – bravery that is rewarded and shows a healthy, vibrant choral music scene. With all the fabulous repertoire that exists and is regularly performed, to commission new works may seem foolhardy, but it seems high on the list of things to do and long may that continue.

To my mind the star of the show was Parry, maybe one too many of his pieces (I could have done without the Blest Pair of Sirens) but then I Was Glad was epic – and the Walton wasn’t too bad either!


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