What is Royal Music?


It's great that coverage of the four days of the Platinum Jubilee has strongly focused on music - royal music of course. It goes without saying that without the majestic presence of the BBC, the event could not have happened as it did. But even leaving aside their huge broadcasting feats - perfect audio quality in St Paul's Cathedral and a technically astonishing 3-hour outdoor staged concert - I spotted several quieter radio commemorations which seized my interest in a very crowded week.


First and foremost, BBC r3's The Early Music Show, presented by Hannah French, focused on the early history of the Masters of the King's/Queen's Music. I do wish I'd heard this witty and well-informed programme before becoming (as I learned) the 21st holder of this post. My own knowledge formerly stretched backward only as far as Sir Walter Parratt, Queen Victoria's final Master; and so I'm grateful to EMS for filling that embarrassing blank space I used to have from 1625-1893. (Be that as it may, I make a short appearance on this programme, from 51'45".)


Also at the weekend on BBC Radio 3's The Listening Service, Tom Service was wondering "What makes royal music royal ?". Half an hour later, via Gagaku (=Japanese court music), Zadok the Priest and Britten's Gloriana, he concluded "it's the sound of ourselves". Tom's weekly philosophical musical essays are always well worth hearing, but you have to concentrate, so quickly do the ideas flow. When David Dimbleby finally steps aside from royal commentary, I hope they invite Tom to take his place.


Finally, not the BBC, but on Scala Radio, where I always recommend Jack Pepper's Culture Bunker. This week, with a typically ingenious playlist, Jack was also surveying royal music (once again, I dropped in to speak on this programme, starting at 22'15".) If you miss everything else Jubilee, listen to the opening here, from the Royal Marines band; the three-minute drum solo you'd never imagine.


Pictured - Household Cavalry bandsmen, and their boots, awaiting entry to the Jubilee Service outside St Paul's Cathedral.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer