Royal composers – Sir Arthur Bliss, John Ireland & Sir Arnold Bax

by Ben Hogwood

Our brief look at the music used in the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II continues with three lesser-known composers whose music was used at either end of the ceremony in 1953.

Receiving its first performance was the Processional by the new incumbent of the position Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Arthur Bliss. Ideally timed for the ceremony (with a procession that was in total more than six miles!) its orchestral opening builds steadily until the grand entry of the organ half way through. After its central section the piece builds to a rousing conclusion, led by organ, brass and drums:

Also heard before the service was the Epic March by John Ireland. This was effectively a piece of wartime propaganda, written in 1942 to boost the spirits of a flagging nation. When asked for the piece, Ireland wrote to Sir Adrian Boult, “What I have in mind is stern and purposeful rather than jolly and complacent”. The piece was first heard on the opening night of the 1942 season of Promenade concerts, and its stoic, noble tones were wholly suitable as part of the music before the Coronation service:

As the royal party and guests departed they heard the familiar strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches, nos. 1 & 4 respectively. Sandwiched between the two pieces was a new work by Sir Arnold Bax. The Coronation March has an unmistakably regal feel, some choice moments for the trombones, and a suitably royal chorale to finish:

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