8 - The ‘marriage of tradition and innovation’  pp. 225-262

The ‘marriage of tradition and innovation’

By Matthias Range

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The music at the four twentieth-century coronations is generally very well documented, with outstanding primary sources including sound and film recordings for the two most recent ones. A version of the order of service including the music was printed for each of them, and at least for the 1953 coronation it is known that this was used by the singers during the service.

There were significant changes at these coronations: some features of the service were ultimately removed, while others were reintroduced after centuries of absence and some new ones were added. Regarding the music Strong befittingly summarized that the arrangements in the twentieth century ‘fully accorded with the desire that each Coronation should marry tradition with innovation’.

Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, 1902

Queen Victoria’s reign was the longest in British history and the coronation of her successor took place a full sixty-four years after hers: Edward VII was crowned together with his wife, Queen Alexandra, on 9 August 1902. One of the leading figures in the planning of the event was Viscount Esher, who had been responsible for organizing Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and was very much one of the main architects of the ‘ceremonial monarchy’. The musician in charge at the coronation was Sir Frederick Bridge, who himself provides much detailed information in his autobiography. His responsibility for the music is generally noteworthy: Bridge did not hold a position in the Chapel Royal but had been organist of Westminster Abbey since 1882 (deputy to James Turle from 1875). In fact, his appointment is in striking contrast to Smart’s argument of 1838 that the organists of Westminster Abbey never contributed to the coronation music, but only musicians of the Chapel Royal. The Executive Coronation Committee appointed Bridge as ‘chief musician’ for the service relatively early, in December 1901. While he himself emphasized that this ‘was not at all a foregone conclusion’, there is no evidence of any dispute over his leadership; after all he had already been responsible for the music at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee service in the Abbey in 1887. It seems that it had become more or less accepted that at the great occasions of state the Abbey’s own organist was the leading musician. Nevertheless, up until 1953 the issue was reconsidered for each coronation.


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