Two pieces were written especially for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral by composers Judith Weir and Sir James Macmillan. [Phil Noble/Pool Photo via A.P.)]
Leading journalists, the most serious pundits, the biggest networks on the planet agreed that what two million Britons watched in person on Monday and far more than their television sets was a historic moment and an insurmountable spectacle at the same time. Music, even the “music” engendered by the universal silence of the crowd, was prominent during this generous last joy of United Kingdom to the longest reigning queen in its history.
No surprise, of course, as the British tradition for all public ceremonies reserves a special place for their musical accompaniment, which has no purely decorative character. Hymns, chants, choral parts, grandiose compositions by classical composers, mournful passages lift the emotion of attendees and spectators on every occasion, and this was done in the niost in both London and Windsor. The atmosphere is more majestic in Westminster Abbey, with trumpets and bugles dominating, more overwhelming in the famous castle and last residence of Elizabeth. “Music played a dominant role during all the ritual phases of the process,” agrees Mr Alexandros Harkiolakis, musicologist and director of the “Friends of Music” Association. And he adds: “Works by important British composers of the past with symbolic significance, but also works by Johann Sebastian Bach, among other composers, while a special impression was made by the two works written especially for the occasion: the first was “Like as the Hart ” by Judith Weir, one of Elizabeth’s favorite composers, while the second was a work by Sir James Macmillan with text from the New Testament. Especially for the second one, he is one of the most important composers of our time.”
As the whole ceremony was approved by the Queen herself, so was the music we heard. Much of it was composed by Sir William Harris, who for many years, from 1933 to 1961, played music at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. The then young princess often visited the chapel, and it is believed that Sir William Harris taught her to play the piano. However, the final anthem was not her choice. She deliberately entrusted it to the Dean of Windsor and her successor, her son and King Charles. They chose the hymn “Christ is made the sure foundation” by Henry Purcell.