Garland for the Queen, A
Songs for Mixed Voices
Even for Ralph Vaughan Williams the prospect of two world premieres within 24 hours must have been something of a rarity. Such was the case however on the first two days of June 1953, when his now classic arrangement of The Old Hundredth Psalm was sung at the Coronation of Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey, being preceded the evening before by the premiere of ‘Silence and Music’, fourth of ten partsongs of A Garland for the Queen, commissioned from leading British composers by the Arts Council of Great Britain to honour the new monarch.
Long unavailable except as separate items from individual publishers, this historic collection is now reissued complete by Stainer & Bell in its original single-volume format, allowing conductors and singers to choose from a rich collection of choral music with which to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and, in 2013, the 60th anniversary of the Coronation itself.
In addition to VW’s contribution, A Garland for the Queen includes important settings by Bax, Berkeley, Bliss, Finzi, Howells, Ireland, Rawsthorne, Rubbra and Tippett. The collection moreover draws on the work of poets whose names likewise feature prominently in the annals of mid-century British literary talent: Clifford Bax, Edmund Blunden, Paul Dehn, Christopher Fry, Christopher Hassall, James Kirkup, Louis MacNeice, Walter de la Mare, Henry Reed and Ursula Wood.
Intended as a counterpart to The Triumphs of Oriana of 1601, the celebrated madrigal volume published in praise of Elizabeth I by Thomas Morley, A Garland for the Queen emulates its distinguished predecessor in its variety of moods and vocal combinations. There is material here to fit every aspect of celebration, from the airy five-part ensemble of Bax’s ‘What is it like to be young and fair?’, and the soprano solo with SATB of Rawsthorne’s Canzonet, to the lustrous contrasting of male and female timbres in Bliss’s Aubade, and the rapturous eight-part setting of Howells’s ‘Inheritance’.
Adventurous conductors and choirs will relish the opportunity presented by the collection for attractive and sensitive programming, not only in relation to the musical heritage of the English Madrigal School, but also in terms of modern British choral music, including the cross-section of contemporary talent displayed in the recently published Choirbook for the Queen.
Arthus BLISS: Aubade
Arnold BAX: What is it like to be young and fair?
Michael TIPPETT: Dance, Clarion Air
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Silence and Music
Lennox BERKELEY: Spring, at this hour
John IRELAND: The Hills
Herbert HOWELLS: Inheritance
Gerald FINZI: White-flowering days
Alan RAWSTHORNE: Canzonet
Edmund RUBBRA: Salutation
A Garland for the Queen was originally commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain to mark the occasion of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and was first performed on 1st June 1953 at the Royal Festival Hall, at a special concert of ‘Music for the Eve of Coronation Day’, with Boris Ord conducting The Golden Age Singers and The Cambridge University Madrigal Society.
This new edition has been published, in what is a special year for all things English, to celebrate both the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952 and the sixtieth anniversary of her Coronation in 1953.
With the notable exceptions of Walton and Britten, who were involved in the celebrations elsewhere, with Orb and Sceptre and Gloriana respectively, ten of the most prominent composers of the day were represented in the original volume, reproduced here. It is pleasing to think that these attractive though demanding pieces – four of which do not refer directly to the Queen, though all contemplate some aspect of English national or spiritual life – might receive further performances this year, when we are currently witnessing something of a revival of interest in choral singing.
John Talbot – BMS Newsletter