Gramophone guest blog

Music for Her Majesty

Debbie WisemanThu 21st April 2016

'To be invited to compose a suitable musical tribute was truly one of the very greatest tasks I’ve faced as a composer'

There is a thread of constancy running down the recent history of our nation. Over the long and distinguished years of her reign the Queen has witnessed moments of great achievement and deepest disaster, times of joy and times of pain, not just for our country as our Monarch but privately, as a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is the constant in our ever-growing, ever-developing lifescape, and has unfailingly placed her country above herself. To be invited to compose a suitable musical tribute as part of this major event to celebrate Her Majesty’s 90th birthday was truly one of the very greatest tasks I’ve faced as a composer.

The thread was the thing. That was the core idea, the central theme, to weave through the suite of music, and on which to hang variations and developments, to suit and reflect the different aspects of the Queen’s own familiar anchors, the reassuring constants in her own, private world, aside from much of the procedure and protocol of official engagements. The excitement of Royal Ascot, the tradition of Sandringham, the retreat to familial solitude and peace at Balmoral, the regal grace and ceremony of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle; and the Queen’s animals, and particularly the horses, that she has owned, raced, cared for and loved over the years; all are incorporated into my orchestral pieces that will be played at the event.

The main theme now established, the practicalities emerged. I was furnished with the information that, for my Buckingham Palace March, the mounted band march at exactly 116 beats per minute, and informed that, unlike orchestral trumpets, cornets will not enjoy playing high trilled notes as these would be extremely hard to achieve and sustain while in motion on horseback. Additionally, the brass and woodwinds do not generally play slurred/phrased notes, preferring instead a detached approach to the phrases as they march.

Bagpipes, I have discovered, require extremely individual scoring and writing in the key of B flat is preferred; and I am extremely grateful to Michael McDermott for his invaluable instruction and expertise in exactly how to follow the rules for bagpipe melody writing.

There was also the fact that the music would be performed outdoors to take into consideration, and so I decided to feature the brass prominently, as these sounds would fill the large expanse of the Windsor Castle grounds with relative ease.

Meetings with the wonderful people who have been charged with staging this event has meant that I have visited Windsor more this last few months than in all the preceding years of my life. It’s a beautiful place, centred around the magnificent castle. I also had my first experience of the changing of the guard, as the band marched past in full song up the High Street outside the window of the office where I was attending one of the planning meetings. I was fascinated by this unexpected interruption, but nobody else batted an eyelid as the marchpast drowned all other sounds and all possibility of hearing the presentation. They were used to it; this was natural and routine. I was able to return the compliment and give the team a taste of my natural environment when they came to London to hear me record the music for the CD release with the National Symphony Orchestra; and although I would have liked to have experimented with the brass section on horseback, sadly there was not enough room in the studio...

I’m now very much looking forward to Her Majesty hearing the music live for the first time on May 15 as part of this wonderful event to celebrate her 90th Birthday – it’s been superbly planned, I’m hugely honoured to be a part of it, and I’m sure it’ll be a fitting tribute to our Queen and a spectacular occasion.

The CD of Debbie Wiseman’s music for the occasion is released by Silva Screen Records on May 13, and a donation from each CD sold will go to The Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain. The charity supports musicians in need and the Queen is Patron of the charity. Pre-order the album here: 'The Queen's 90th Birthday Celebration' (Amazon.co.uk

Debbie is currently Classic FM’s Composer in Residence and her album 'The Musical Zodiac', a 12-movement suite inspired by the signs of the zodiac, will be released on September 16.

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