All the music from the Queen’s funeral – including one or two surprises

The musical portion of the Order of Service for the burial of the late Queen is exactly what one would expect it to be. It is rooted in the traditions of past royal funerals, in a variety of musical styles from Jacobean formality to Edwardian sentiment, with just one very mild whiff of “modern music”. There are also subtle nods towards the Queen’s own musical tastes and loyalties, and one or two surprises.

At the core of the music are the settings of the Burial Sentences, which will be sung in the same settings by William Croft and Henry Purcell that have been sung at every royal funeral since that of Queen Caroline, wife of George II in 1737. Before that, as the 2,000 guests wait for the procession to arrive from Westminster Hall, two of Westminster Abbey’s organists will play a set of pieces which unusually are entirely British. Alongside works by Elgar Parry and Stanford will be pieces by two recent Masters of the Queen’s Music, Malcolm Williamson and Peter Maxwell Davies.

As always there will be hymns for the congregation, and psalms to be sung by the two choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. Among the hymns is one of the late Queen’s favourites, “The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not Want” and “The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended”, a hymn that is normally sung at Evensong with a beautifully resigned tone that will be exactly right for the occasion. Adding to that feeling will be C H H Parry’s anthem My Soul there is a Country, based on words by John Donne.

Understated, simple eloquence

The two unknowns nestling among these familiar things are two newly-commissioned pieces, both by Scottish composers. One is a setting of well-known lines from Psalm 42 by Judith Weir, who was Master of the Queen’s Music from 2014. She tells us that “The words and music speak at first of the soul’s great sadness and thirst for God’s reassurance; but as the psalm progresses, the mood becomes calmer and more resolved, culminating in consolation, with the words ‘Put thy trust in God’”. Like Benjamin Britten wants to be “useful” to society by writing straightforward music for amateurs and schools and music festivals, and it’s a fair bet her new psalm-setting will have a similar understated, simple eloquence.  

The new anthem by James MacMillan is more surprising, given that MacMillan is now possibly the best-known Catholic composer in the world, and this is a funeral of the Defender of the Anglican Faith. But he’s also a staunch supporter of the Union, as well as a masterly composer of small-scale religious choral pieces, and his setting of a mystical poem by Henry Vaughan is sure to be masterly.

The Committal Service at St George’s Chapel Windsor will be more modest, with no new pieces and only one participating choir, but more international with music by J S Bach and Charles-Marie Widor. There is a modest acknowledgement of diversity, with organ pieces by Ethel Smythe and the black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and echoes of past royal funerals and a salute to a faithful servant. The Queen’s piano teacher William Harris features twice, as composer of an organ piece and a motet, and the Russian Kontakion of the Departed, a favourite of Queen Victoria and last performed at the funeral of Queen Alexandra in 1925 will be sung. The Last Post, the National Anthem and the concluding Prelude and Fugue in C minor by Bach will end a series of musical obsequies which, like the Queen herself, never puts a foot wrong.


Music for the state funeral at Westminster Abbey

The service is sung by the Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Choir of the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, (Joseph McHardy, Director of Music) under the direction of James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers, Westminster Abbey.

Music before the service

Matthew Jorysz, Assistant Organist, Westminster Abbey, plays:

Fantasia of four parts Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625)

Romanza (Symphony no 5 in D) Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)

Reliqui domum meum Peter Maxwell Davies (1934–2016)

Meditation on ‘Brother James’s Air’ Harold Darke (1888–1976)

Prelude on ‘Ecce jam noctis’ Op 157 no 3 Healey Willan (1880–1968)

Psalm Prelude Set 1 no 2 Herbert Howells (1892–1983)

In the Country Op 194 no 2 Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924)

Fantasy on ‘O Paradise’ Malcolm Williamson (1931–2003)

Elegy Op 58 Edward Elgar (1857–1934)

The Sub-Organist plays:

Andante espressivo (Sonata in G Op 28) Edward Elgar

Sospiri Op 70 Edward Elgar

Music after the service:

Allegro maestoso (Sonata in G Op 28) Edward Elgar


Music for the committal service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle

Music before the Service

Mr. Luke Bond, Assistant Director of Music, will play:

Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele (BWV 654), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

OTraurigkeit, O Herzeleid, Dame Ethel Smyth (1858–1944)

Master Tallis’s Testament, Herbert Howells (1892–1983)

Psalm Prelude Set 1, No. 1, Herbert Howells (1892–1983)

Psalm Prelude Set 1, No. 2, Herbert Howells (1892–1983)

Melody (Three Pieces), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912)

Andante Sostenuto (Symphonie Gothique, Op. 70), Charles-MarieWidor (1844–1937)

The Tree of Peace, Judith Weir (b. 1954)

Nimrod (Variations On An Original Theme, Op.36), Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934)

Prelude, Sir William H. Harris (1883–1973)

Sheep May Safely Graze (BWV 208), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

Rhosymedre Ralph, Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)

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