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July 8, 2016  TAGS:  MUSIC  INSPIRATION  RESOURCES

Reflections on the Music Selections of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton

Prince William and Catherine Middleton Wedding Music Inspiration | Royal Wedding Fifth Anniversary | Vermont Bride Magazine
Photo by Hugo Burnand

This article originally appeared in Vermont Bride Magazine in 2011, revisited in honor of the royal couple’s fifth anniversary which occured this past April 29th.

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, then Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton, were selecting music for their wedding, they wove threads of many colors and textures into the fabric of their day. The majority of people watching from around the world were probably aware of the majesty of the sound, and the familiarity of some of the hymns, but I would venture to guess that relatively few were aware of the personal significance of Prince William and Miss Middleton’s choices, nor how those choices wove their ceremony, and their future life together, into the fabric of family, community, country and world. Royal weddings can set precedents for the rest of us long after the event itself – as can be seen in the case of the use of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March for the 1858 wedding of Princess Victoria and Prince Frederick. I invite you to a closer look at William and Kate’s wedding music, not so much with the idea of duplicating the specific choices, but in considering their planning approach as you plan a wedding that will reflect your own life, your past, your present, and your future, as individuals, as a couple, as a family and part of a community.

The bride’s processional, “I Was Glad” by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, was selected partly for its ability to fill the large hall with theatrical impact while accenting rather than detracting from the bride herself, and partly because it was a favorite of the couple and was written by Prince William’s favorite composer, but it also represents family history in that it was composed for William’s great-great-great grandfather Edward VII’s coronation in 1902. The recessional, “Crown Imperial” by William Walton, was originally performed for the coronation of King George VI in 1937, and was also played for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Prince William and Catherine Middleton Wedding Music Inspiration | Royal Wedding Fifth Anniversary | Vermont Bride Magazine

Three of the couple’s favorite hymns were sung during the ceremony. Notably, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer” was the final hymn at William’s mother, Diana’s, funeral. The second hymn, “Love Divine All Love Excelling” is considered one of Britain’s top ten favorite hymns and has also been sung at other of their family ceremonies, and the third, “Jerusalem,” references the poet William Blake’s perspective on social inequalities of the industrial era, with notable similarities to the social priorities and interests of the royal couple, as well as the final statement regarding better days “on England’s green and pleasant land.”

Three selections for the prelude (Farewell to Stromness by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Touch Her Soft Lips and Part by William Walton, and Romance for String Orchestra by Gerald Finzi) were chosen specifically because of their use at the Service of Prayer and Dedication for the Prince of Wales (William’s father) and the Duchess of Cornwall, following their wedding service in 2005. 

One of the clearest threads in Kate and William’s choices was the emphasis on 20th century British composers. The only exceptions were two organ compositions at the beginning and end – Fantasia in G by Johann Sebastian Bach – and Toccata from Organ Symphonie V by French composer Charles-Marie Widor. I can only speculate on the significance of opening and closing with representation of the greater European world, representing the gifts of one of the first and greatest organ compositions and another by a composer who lived at the time the Westminster Abbey organ was rebuilt.

Miss Middleton had two more priorities in her music selection. She chose a selection representing a beautiful theme of hundreds of years of England’s history – Fantasia on Greensleeves by Vaugh Williams (original theme likely by Henry VIII from the 16th century) – and also placed a high priority on recently composed music. Three pieces on the program filled this second need: the Fanfare following the signing of the registers, composed for this occasion by Wing commander Duncan Stubbs; the Anthem: “This is the Day Which the Lord Hath Made” by John Rutter, commissioned by Westminster Abbey as a gift for Prince William and Miss Middleton, and “Ubi Caritas,” a 2010 selection from 36 year old composer Paul Mealor, resident of the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, where the Duke and Duchess also reside.

Though few of us can afford to commission a new piece for our wedding, to be played on one of the world’s greatest organs, as well as a full professional orchestra and choir, and few of us have coronations in our family history, I believe we all have many threads in common with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

Several threads of joy, a thread of grief, some of community, some of country, some of the greater world, many threads of love, many threads of faith, a thread of spring, a thread of sorrow, a thread of awareness of the need to work for a bright future, many historical threads, and some brand new threads. This is the fabric of a couple. This is the fabric of a family and a community. What musical selections represent what you love? your family? your community? your outlook on the world? your tastes and preferences? your history and your hopes for the future? The musical choices you weave into your wedding day can reflect and interconnect, and hold a place in your world from which you and your loved ones may grow, safely and joyfully, together.

Lisa Carlson is a freelance flutist, performing for weddings and other occasions throughout Vermont and beyond, with musical offerings ranging from a quartet of flute with violin, viola and cello, to solo flute, to duos and trios of flute with harp, violin, piano, cello, oboe, and more. She maintains a private flute studio for in Montpelier, Vermont and also teaches online to students worldwide.