Westminster Abbey
Coronation music

Music has always played an important part in coronation ceremonies. Since the general form of the coronation service has changed little over the centuries it is an easy matter to identify the main texts that have been sung, but very little detailed information survives about the musical settings of those texts prior to the seventeenth century.

An article by Dom Anselm Hughes entitled ‘Music of the coronation over a thousand years’ published in The Proceedings of the Musical Association, vol.79 (1952–3) remains a good introduction to the subject. It includes a table showing the music known to have been sung from the coronation of Charles I (1626) onwards.

Music at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

At the present Queen’s coronation on 2 June 1953 the musical performances were under the direction of the Abbey’s Organist, William Mckie. The choir consisted of nearly 400 singers and the orchestra of over sixty players. Fanfares were provided by military trumpeters.

The music performed during the service was as follows (first performances are indicated by *):

At the entrance
C.H.H. Parry I was glad [Anthem]

The beginning of the Communion Service
Herbert Howells Behold, O God our defender* [Introit]
William H. Harris Let my prayer come up* [Gradual]
R. Vaughan Williams Creed [from the Mass in G minor]

At the Anointing
Hymn Come Holy Ghost [plainsong, arr. Ernest Bullock]
George Frideric Handel Zadok the Priest

At the Crowning
George Dyson Confortare* (‘Be strong’)

The Homage Anthems
John Redford (attributed) Rejoice in the Lord
Orlando Gibbons O clap your hands together
William Byrd I will not leave you comfortless
Healey Willan O Lord, our Governour*
S.S. Wesley Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace

At the Communion
R. Vaughan Williams All people that on Earth do dwell [Offertory Hymn]
R. Vaughan Williams Sanctus [from the Mass in G minor]

During the Communion
R. Vaughan Williams O taste and see*

After the Communion
Charles V. Stanford Gloria in Excelsis [from the B flat service]
Orlando Gibbons Threefold Amen

William Walton Te Deum Laudamus*

The National Anthem