PhDr. Marek Pavka PhD /CZ/ - art historian, political scientist, Czech Television

Korunovační hudba 20.a 21. století / Coronation music of the 20th and 21st centuries in Europe

PhDr. Marek Pavka PhD /CZ/ - art historian, political scientist, Czech Television

Composing of coronation music in 20th and 21st century is limited basically by three issues.  The first lies in the fact, that number of monarchies has been in 20th century abolished. The second is the volume of coronation compositions from previous centuries, which are used in royal ceremonies in modern times. The oldest are gregorian chants like Te Deum, Introit or Veni Creator Spiritus used throughout Europe, popes and grand dukes of Luxembourg use music from 16. century, very popular are coronation compositions of Händel, Mozart, Liszt, Glazunov or Tchaikowski.

The third fact limiting oportunities of modern compositors are political considerations. Sometimes the monarchies try not to provoke republican reactions or even want to gain sympathies for new ruler among sceptical part of political scene, so the monarchs try to keep low profile. Therefore the ceremonies tend to be very simple and the crown jewels are used with moderation or are not used at all or even do not exists like in Belgium and Monaco and  the term „coronation“ is avoided and  replaced by terms like consecration, accession, proclamation, investiture, enthronement or benediction.  We may mention coronation of Spanish king Juan Carlos in 1975, which took place in highly volatile atmosphere of the end of dictatorship of caudillo Franco, when the new king tried to win the sympathies of socialists and communists, so the ceremony was very civil.  According „Daily Express“ „the enthronement of Juan Carlos I. has been held with fewer ceremonial than the Lord Mayor of London“. Similar simplicity of the accession of his successor Felipe VI. has been explained by economical crisis of Spain and scandals of his relatives. 

There can be also influential international aspects. In Denmark has been since 18. century used royal anthem „Kong Christian stod ved højen mast“, which depicts the heroism of Danes in fights against Sweden. When Sweden ceased to be an enemy, organizers of royal ceremonies had to omit 3 of 4 parts of the anthem, because they have been considered as too hostile to Sweden.   

Very delicate question is the role of church, indispensable by traditional coronations, which can be now in times of secularization and laicity also subjected to political pressures. This also means, that the ceremonies are more simple than in the past. Felipe VI. of Spain, unlike his father, completely omitted any religious aspects in his accession – so there was no Mass and no crucifix or Bible, when he took the oath.   

While the official royal ceremonies tend to be desacralized, low-profile and civil, the traditional coronation music has increasing role in showbusiness interpretation of history. Here I have to mention the quote of C. S. Lewis, who said: „Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters.“  

So Händel´s coronation anthem „Zadok the Priest“ has inspired the anthem of UEFA football Champions League,  Te Deum of Hector Berlioz has been used for Olympic Games in Sydney and Te Deum of Marc Antoine Charpentier has been used for Eurovision Song Contest of Jeux sans frontieres and for fictional coronation of English king Richard in movie Richard III.. And to mention the gangsters: Communist presidents Czechoslovakia, who also happened to be secretaries general of the Communist Party, resided in traditional seat of Bohemian king or even Roman Emperor in castle of Prague, handled the crown jewels according to traditional medieval ceremony and by their official accession to power celebrated Te Deum Mass in the Cathedral of Prague.  

So who had the fortune to write coronation music in 20th and 21st century?

We can start with composers of the most exuberant royal ceremonies of modern Europe, the coronations of British rulers. Charles Villiers Stanford wrote music for coronation of Edward VII. in 1902 and George V. in 1911. King Edward VII. coronation used also music of John Stainer and Hubert Parry. In next coronation, of George V. has been used Parry´s composition, his Te Deum,  new anthem of Frederick Bridge and composition of Edward Elgar. For the coronation of George VI. was chosen music of Ralph Vaughan WiIliams, William Walton, Arnold Bax, Arthur Bliss, Granville Bantock, George Dyson, Edward German, Edward Bairstow, William Harris. For coronation of Elizabeth II. was the music composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Healey Willan, Arthur Bliss and Arnold Bax.    

We can find a lot of splendour also by coronations of kings of Norway. Musicians composing for these ceremonies include Johan Halvorsen, Christian Haslerud and  Egil Hovland, while Edvard Grieg in 1906 refused to compose a coronation cantata for king Haakon VII., since he was a republican. (On the other hand Swedish writer Carl Wilhelm Strandberg, who was also republican, wrote the lyrics of Kungssången, composition used by enthronement of Swedish kings).  In 2013 has Bjørn Vidar Ulvedalen written coronation anthem, for future use in Norway . Sweden offers less opportunities, since its royal celebration is more simple and unlike Norway, the Swedish kings omit the church. They are enthroned in royal palace and then show themselves on the balcony to people, which sings a capella hymns from 18. and 19. century. In Luxembourg is used the composition of Fernand Mertens called „Sonnerie Nationale“, played during Te Deum. In Denmark there ´s not even an enthronement and the new ruler only announces his accession from balcony of the royal palace. His speech is accompanied by singing of the song  „I Danmark er jeg født“ which has the lyrics from H. C. Andersen, while the melody was composed in 1928 by Poul Schierbeck.

Popes abandoned the coronation after Second Vatican Council, but the still have the ceremony of inauguration. It is accompanied mainly by gregorian chants, but Benedict XVI. used also „Toccata“ from Théodor Dubois and pope Francis used compositions of Lorenzo Perosi, Maurice Duruflé, Colin Mawby, Domenico Bartolucci, Massimo Palombella and Luigi Molfino. Inauguration of pope is unique since unlike in other monarchies, is pope elected and until the last moment no one knows, which person is going to be inaugurated. Therefore when after the election of Karol Wojtyla have Krzystof Penderecki and Roman Palester composed Te Deums for him, they could not manage it before the inauguration.   

As was already mentioned, some monarchies are victims of political constellation, therefore ceremonies in Belgium are without any really splendour and opportunities for composers. For Spain applies the same, as Felipe V. made his ceremony even more simple than his father, so he did not use coronation anthems composed for him by Jacinto Carlos Hidalgo León and by Gaspar Ángel Tortosa Urrea.

The most bizarre case is the Netherlands. While queen Beatrix used in 1980 Mozart´s „Coronation Mass“, her sucessor Willem Alexander, or the commission for his inauguration, hired John Ewbank, who wrote  lyrics and music of his „Koningslied“ using suggestions sent through social media and recorded the song with many stars Netherland pop-music including rappers, hip-hop producers or participants of TV talent shows. The result was controversial at best. The composition was strongly criticized and even ridiculed and 38 thousand people signed petition against it. Moreover John Ewbank was accused of plagiarism and his critics said, that he copied song of another author.

The future of composing for coronation ceremonies is uncertain. Will the monarchs yield to political pressures to such extent like Felipe VI. of Spain and sacrifice the ceremony? Will they pander to the mob like Willem Alexander of Netherlands? Will they have the courage of pope Francis I. and give a chance to musicians like Bjørn Vidar Ulvedalen, Jacinto Carlos Hidago León and Gaspar Ángel Tortosa Urrea?

We don´t know. But we do know, that while some royals may go pop-cult, it´s pretty certain, that pop-cult goes royal. Members of contemporary ruling dynasties may try to keep low-profile, but their showbusiness doppelgangers are now stars of TV series and Hollywood blockbusters. And it does not stop there. Athletes, pop-stars and even Stalin´s henchmen imitate royals. In other words – despite of political and historical developments, it´s sure that there´s still latent demand for royal pomp and rituals – and probably also for coronation music.    

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