Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – the Music in 1897

There seems to have been comparatively little music used for the formal ceremonies of the 1897 Diamond Jubilee. What probably didn’t help was the frailty of Queen Victoria who couldn’t manage the steps of St Pauls Cathedral.

The Jubilee celebrations began on Accession Day, Sunday 20th June 1897, when the Queen, together with family members took part in a simple ceremony of thanksgiving at St George’s chapel Windsor.

The ceremony featured the Jubilee hymn ‘Oh King of King’s’ by the Bishop of Wakefield, set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), the hymn appointed for use in all churches and chapels throughout the empire on that day. There is a recording of this hymn on the British Music Society label BMS422CD  (see below)

The service also included a performance of ‘Hymn of Praise’ by Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) one of the Queen’s favourite composers, sung by the Canadian soprano Emma Albani. It will be remembered that Mendelssohn had met Queen Victoria in 1842 and had become a personal favourite of the Queen. He dedicated his Scottish Symphony to her.

Without a doubt the choice of recording for Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise must be Claudio Abbado with London Symphony Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon.  Here we have an unsentimental and fresh performance with excellent choral singing.

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At Windsor Castle, The Poet Laureate, Mr Alfred Austin, presented Queen Victoria with an especially composed poem “Victoria”. It seems that this was probably the poem that was also submitted to Sullivan by the Poet Laureate, but was never set.

On Monday 21 June, Queen Victoria left Windsor Castle and travelled to London by train, arriving at Paddington Station. In the evening the Queen hosted a State Banquet in the State Supper Room at Buckingham Palace, where the Band of the Royal Engineers played a selection of music under the direction of Mr J. Sommer, Bandmaster. After the dinner a reception was held in the Ballroom for invitees of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The main Jubilee celebrations took place on 22nd June with a service at St Paul’s cathedral with a congregation of around 15,000 people. The ceremony included a Te Deum by the Queen’s late husband Prince Albert (1819 –1861) and the congregation singing the National Anthem and the Psalm, ‘The Old Hundredth’. Prince Albert was a competent musician and had written a number of works that had been published including ‘L’invocazione all’ Armonia’ for chorus and soli, a morning service in C and A, an anthem ‘Out of the Deep’, as well as collections of lieder.

There is a fascinating recording of Prince Albert’s works on a Decca Eloquence CD still available from Amazon.

Vaughan Williams of course made an arrangement of the Psalm tune ‘The Old Hundredth’ which has been beautifully performed by the Corydon Singers and the City of London Sinfonia directed by Matthew Best on a Hyperion CD  with other choral works by the composer.


As the Queen walked with difficulty and was unable to climb the steps to the Cathedral, it was decided to hold the service outside with Queen Victoria remaining in her carriage. The ‘Te Deum’ was sung on the steps of the Cathedral.

After the short service, Queen Victoria stopped at Mansion House to be welcomed in to the City of London by the Lord Mayor. She then toured London in her carriage so that as many people as possible could see her.

In the evening, a torchlight procession of boys from Eton School sang for Queen Victoria in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle and the boys created formations on the ground including the letters ‘V.R’. They were accompanied by the band and drums of the Coldstream Guards, performing a number of songs including ‘Auld Lang Syne” and “God Save The Queen”. Afterwards the boys gave Queen Victoria three cheers.

In addition to the more formal music Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was approached by his publishers, Novellos, to provide two small works to celebrate the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee.

The 40 year old Elgar had no experience of writing such commissions but, as an up and coming composer, he saw the value in such a commission and wrote for the occasion his Imperial March and The Banner of St George. The Banner of St George was a setting of a much altered version of words by a certain Mr Shapcott Wensley

For the orchestral version of the Imperial March you can’t do any better than George Hurst’s fine recording for Naxos This also gives you an exceptionally good performance of Elgar’s First Symphony. If you prefer to hear the organ version of the March then Donald Hunt’s excellent recording on Regis  is the one to go for and includes other organ works by Elgar.


The Banner of St George has been recorded by Richard Hickox with the Northern Sinfonia of England and London Symphony Chorus on EMI back in 1986 and, whilst not being of the same stature as Caractacus that came soon after it, Hickox gives a stirring performance. You also get Elgar’s Anthem ‘Great Is The Lord’ Op. 67 and his ‘Te Deum and Benedictus’ Op. 34. This is still available on CD from Amazon.

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In addition to receiving a royal command to set the Jubilee Hymn to music, Sir Arthur Sullivan also composed a ballet, Victoria and Merrie England, which told the story of Britain’s greatness in a series of tableaux. The ballet was one of the great successes of jubilee year, running for six months at the Alhambra Theatre.  Composed mainly during a stay on the French Riviera it was also popular with members of the royal family, who were said to have attended no less than nineteen times.

Finding a full score for a recorded performance of this work was not without its difficulties as the autograph score and most of the orchestral material had simply disappeared.  Only the first Suite still exists in its orchestral form, however, in recent years research has shed light on its original orchestration allowing for a complete reconstruction by Roderick Spencer on behalf of the Sullivan Society.

This has enabled Marco Polo  to make the premiere recording of Victoria and Merrie England with Andrew Penny and RTE Sinfonietta.


It seems that Sir Hubert Parry (1848–1918) felt uncomfortable about providing music that was overtly expressing patriotism and, therefore, composed a setting of the Magnificat spoken of at the time of its first performance at the Hereford Three Choirs Festival in 1897 as ‘…one of his finest.’

Oddly enough I have been unable to find a recording of this particular work but for a good recording of Parry’s church music generally I would suggest a wonderful recording by the Manchester Cathedral Choir directed by Christopher Stokes on Naxos.   This well recorded CD has Parry’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimmitis from the Great Service together with his Songs of Farewell.


Amongst others that provided music for the Jubilee was Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1847-1935) who wrote his ‘Dormi Jesu’.  Such was Mackenzie’s popularity at that time that he was able to tell the story that ‘last year, during the Jubilee festivities, a gentleman asked to be introduced to me, and on shaking hands with me he said ‘I want to know you our band plays your Benedictus twice a week at Hong Kong!’

Sir George Martin (1844-1916) (not the same Sir George Martin of Beatles fame) composed a ‘Te Deum’. Sir George Martin studied under Sir John Stainer (1840–1901), and was organist of St. Paul's Cathedral from 1888-1916. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1897.

A CD from the British Music Society   entitled ‘ Sixty Glorious Years: A Concert of 19th Century British Music’ includes Arthur Sullivan’s setting of the Jubilee Hymn ‘O King of Kings’ and Sir George Martin’s ‘Te Deum’ as well as a wealth of disparate music from composers popular in 1897, such as Walter Macfarren (1826–1905) the younger brother of one of the leading Victorian composers, George Alexander Macfarren (1813-1887) who is also represented on this disc.


Macfarren had a long career as a piano teacher at the Royal Academy of Music and among his students was Henry Wood. Macfarren wrote a large number of piano pieces, much in the style of Mendelssohn, as well as a piano concerto in B minor. On this disc is a piano piece called ‘L'Amitié’.

Maude WHITE (1855-1937) appears to have been a prolific writer of songs and her ‘To Mary’ is included on this disc.

Composers that predeceased the Jubilee in 1897 are represented presumably due to their continuing popularity, such as the opera composer John Pyke Hullah (1812–1884) with a piece called ‘Three fishers went sailing’, William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) with ‘Three Romances Op. 14 No.2 for piano’, and the amateur composer Robert Pearsall (1795-1856) with his choral work ‘O who will o'er the downs so free?’.

I haven’t heard this CD so cannot specifically recommend it but it does give a tantalising variety of forgotten composers with also include Philip Armes (1836-1901), John Hatton (1809-1886), Michael Balfe (1800-1880), John Goss (1800-1880, Brinley Richards (1817-1885), Walter Carroll (1869-1955) Henry Bishop (1786-1855)

Finally there is Prince Albert (1819-1861) who ‘Grüss an den Bruder’ (Does my brother think of me?) is also recorded here.

Such was the music for the last Diamond Jubilee, 115 years ago. I wonder how this year’s Diamond Jubilee music will compare.


  1. Hello this is very interesting. I have tried to contact the palace regards music written for queen Victoria's jubilee. I ask this as I have a printed score by my grandfather and lyrics by a Mr Grant with a letter from Buckingham palace thanking him for this music and lyrics. I have not however been able to locate any information regards this music on any websites at all (including yours)
    My great grandfather also had a link to Edwin Henry lemare as well.
    I am interested to know more information about my music but as I live in Australia it is very difficult.

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