Remembering Queen Elizabeth II's legacy with a lifetime of music

Queen Elizabeth II sits at a piano. BBC

September 08, 2022

On Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor passed away at 96. She was the longest-serving British monarch in history and was a tremendous supporter of music in the United Kingdom during her reign.

Here are nine classical music pieces to honor her memory and celebrate her life.

Nursery Suite Edward Elgar

One of the first compositions written for Elizabeth was when she was just a young princess. At 4, Elgar composed the Nursery Suite with the inscription, “Dedicated by permission to their Royal Highnesses The Duchess of York and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.'

Orb and Sceptre — William Walton

William Walton composed the Orb and Sceptre march for the queen’s coronation in 1953. The piece's title refers to the orb and scepter presented to monarchs during coronation ceremonies and was performed alongside the Crown Imperial march, which Walton composed for King George VI’s coronation 16 years prior. Elizabeth’s coronation would mark the beginning of the longest British monarch reign in history.

Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven — Traditional Hymn (Henry Francis Lyte, lyrics)

In 2016, BBC News published an article revealing the queen's 10 favorite pieces of music. The Christian hymn Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven, was on the list, composed by Anglican clergyman Henry Francis Lyte. The piece, first published in 1834, draws its text from Psalm 103. It has been a long-time favorite of the royal family, to the degree that it was performed at the queen’s wedding to Prince Philip in 1947.

I Vow To Thee My Country — Gustav Holst

Another song on the queen’s list of favorite pieces of music was I Vow To Thee My Country. The piece is a British patriotic hymn written in 1921 using the slow theme from Gustav Holst’s Jupiter, from The Planets suite. The work uses text from Cecil Spring Rice’s poem Urbs Dei (The City of God) that describes Christian’s loyalty to both their homeland and heaven. In the video the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh sing alongside other audience members at the Festival of Remembrance at Royal Albert Hall in 2011.

Eternal Father, Strong to Save — John Bacchus Dykes

Elizabeth’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, died on April 9, 2021. One of the pieces performed at the funeral was William Whiting’s Eternal Father, Strong to Save. The piece is traditionally associated with the maritime armed services and its text is inspired by the sea themes expressed in Psalm 107. It is also known as the Hymn of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and has been adapted by various marine military forces.

Gloriana — Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten composed the opera Gloriana for the Royal Opera House’s celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Based on Lytton Strachey’s 1928 book Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic Story and divided into three acts, the opera's plot follows Gloriana, a character representing Queen Elizabeth I. This nickname was coined by Edmund Spenser in his poem The Faerie Queene and was quickly adopted at the time of the poem’s publication. The opera was a critical failure. However, a series of Courtly Dances from the piece continues to be performed as concert pieces.

Milanollo — J V Hamm, arr. Lieutenant Colonel J Mackenzie-Rogan

Being the head of a country means having to hear many military bands. Marches are a staple of all military organizations and Queen Elizabeth’s favorite march is the Milanollo. This work is the regimental march for the Coldstream Guards, the oldest continuously serving active regiment in the British Army whose primary role is the protection of the monarchy.

‘God Save the Queen’ — The British royal and national anthem

Although there is currently speculation regarding what pieces will be performed at the Queen’s funeral, there is one piece that will not be missing. God Save the Queen (alternatively, God Save the King) is the royal and national anthem of the United Kingdom. Although the piece's author is unknown, the melody has been adapted by various composers and arrangers from different countries. It is customary to salute the royal party throughout the piece. Enjoy this performance from the 2020 BBC Proms.

Elegy on the death of Queen Mary — Henry Purcell

With the recent news of Queen Elizabeth, there is no piece written for her yet. Until then, we honor the passing of such an inspiring woman and steadfast leader with Henry Purcell’s Elegy On The Death Of Queen Mary, written in 1694 when Queen Mary II of England passed away from illness.