From Handel to Andrew Lloyd Webber

King Charles III will become the 40th monarch to be crowned at Westminster Abbey during his coronation ceremony on May 6, in a showing of Great British pomp and pageantry which pays tribute to the thousand-year history of the monarchy.

Although Charles is expected to be crowned following the order of service which would be familiar to the late Anglo-Saxon kings, some alterations and updates will be made to make the event more reflective of Britain today.

The king’s own taste will also be reflected in the ceremony, chiefly through the influence of one of the major elements of the coronation aesthetic—the music.

Charles is known to have a great appreciation for music and was recently revealed to have helped Meghan Markle in selecting the classical accompaniments for her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry.

King Charles III
King Charles III (when Prince of Wales) photographed during the State Opening of Parliament on May 10, 2022, in London. The king has commissioned 12 new pieces of music to debut at his coronation on May 6.

Twelve new pieces of music have been personally commissioned by the king that will be debuted during his coronation, according to details of the upcoming ceremony revealed by Buckingham Palace. These include six orchestral pieces, five choral and one specially commissioned to be played on Westminster Abbey’s historic organ.

Throughout history, new pieces of music have been played at coronations. Perhaps the most famous of these pieces is now considered the definitive coronation anthem in Britain.

George Frideric Handel composed four coronation anthems adapted from texts in the King James bible that were first played at the coronation of King George II in 1762. The most well-known of these, titled “Zadok The Priest,” has been played at nearly every coronation since, including that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

During the coronation of Elizabeth, “Zadok The Priest” was played as she prepared for the most solemn moment in the ceremony, her anointing with holy oil, which was not permitted to be filmed. Charles will likely have the piece played at a similar point in his service.

King Charles and Andrew Lloyd Webber
King Charles III (when Prince of Wales) photographed with Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber in London, on November 25, 2013. Lloyd Webber has composed the king’s new coronation anthem.
Samir Hussein/WireImage

For the commission of his own new coronation anthem, Charles has looked to one of modern Britain’s premiere composers, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, the mastermind behind the iconic musicals Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Evita. In addition to these, Lloyd Webber has also created a number of religious pieces of music, the most famous of which is the 1985 song “Pie Jesu.”

In a press release issued by Buckingham Palace announcing the musical commissions, Lloyd Webber said: “I am incredibly honored to have been asked to compose a new anthem for The Coronation. My anthem includes words slightly adapted from Psalm 98. I have scored it for the Westminster Abbey choir and organ, the ceremonial brass and orchestra. I hope my anthem reflects this joyful occasion.”

In addition to Lloyd Webber’s anthem, Academy Award-nominated composer Patrick Doyle, who scored the 2005 blockbuster Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fireamong other films, will debut his coronation march during the service.

The specially composed piece for Westminster Abbey’s organ to highlight the musical themes of the nations that make up the Commonwealth—of which Charles is head—has been composed by musician Iain Farrington.

The ceremony will also feature pieces from some of Britain’s best composers throughout history, including Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Hubert Parry and William Byrd.

Westminster Abbey Organs
Westminster Abbey organist Peter Holder, during a rehearsal before concerts resumes in the abbey.
Jonathan Brady/Getty

Charles’ coronation service will be broadcast live and is expected to be viewed by millions around the world.

The king will be crowned alongside his wife, Queen Camilla, who is also expected to have some influence over the musical selection for the day.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek’s royal reporter based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek’s The Royals Facebook page.

Do you have a question about King Charles III, William and Kate, Meghan and Harry, or their family that you would like our experienced royal correspondents to answer? Email [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

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