The forthcoming royal wedding between Will and Kate has been the subject of much media speculation over the past few weeks, and plans for the occasion will be the focus of intense scrutiny until the day itself. At present, the royal family will be painstakingly planning this ceremonial royal rite of passage, which some hope will be just as much a popular entertainment as a religious celebration. Choosing the musical content of such high-profile occasions so as to please all listeners is an undeniable challenge, and the choice will, no doubt, be particularly important to the royal pair, who (we can surmise), will be keen to project an image of freshness and modernity.
Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, perhaps the last royal occasion subjected to a similar level of hype, was in danger of becoming more of a show-biz performance than a solemn funeral, by the inclusion of Elton John’s rendition of Candle in the Wind. Despite its gut-curdling lyrics, this song went on to become the biggest selling single in UK history as a result of the funeral. In the ceremony itself, it was placed alongside the contemporary composer John Tavener’s specially commissioned work, Song for Athene, in what could have been a deliberate attempt to balance popular music with what is perceived to be more ‘high-brow’. Perhaps Diana’s funeral has set the tone for future royal events as celebrations of our culture’s musical pluralism. In contrast, the music for Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 consisted almost entirely of core English classical works by composers such as Elgar and Handel.
Important musical decisions for this wedding will lie with the Prince of Wales, who is reported to be pressing for the wedding music to have a Welsh theme. Might this mean, as rumoured, a duet between crooner Tom Jones and the Welsh ‘angel’ Charlotte Church? This depressing potential line-up could grow with the possible inclusion of Andrew Lloyd-Weber, the ‘demi-god’ of musical theatre, with his fail-safe combination of classical and popular styles. Elton John himself, that over-rated veteran crowd-pleaser, has recently joked that, although he might perform at the wedding, it would probably be as a busker outside. If only.
However many concessions are made to musical populism, there will at least be one man who should uphold royal traditions as Master of the Queen’s Music, a position established in the seventeenth century. He is Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Officially commissioned to write a piece for the occasion, he has stated an intention to give his work a ‘Scottish feel’ in honour of the country in which the couple first met, and where he himself lives. His music will probably dissatisfy many ears across the country, unaccustomed to the sound of his modern classical works, although much of his choral music is more accessible to inexperienced ears. We can hope that for such a piece he will make full use of the outstanding abilities of Westminster Abbey choir. His adventurous style is no reason to dismiss his work; after all, Wagner’s famous ‘Here comes the bride’ march, when chosen by George V for his wedding in 1897, would have been considered a daring choice of music at the time.
Popular music should have its place in the wedding celebrations, but perhaps best outside the official ceremony. Since Prince Harry is reportedly in charge of the engagement party, we can safely assume that this occasion will be a fitting musical tribute to the latest sounds in pop culture. Mark Ronson, who lists Harry among his good friends, has requested the privilege of DJ-ing for the couple, and the Prince is rumoured to have lined up Tinie Tempah and Snoop Dogg to perform. The latter is promoting his new single ‘Wet’ as a potential wedding gift to the pair. With lyrics such as: ‘I just wanna get you wet, wet…Drip, drip, Drip, drip for me mami’, it seems unlikely that the Queen will be in a hurry to download it onto her Ipod.
At least Snoop Dogg is under no illusion that his song is a serious homage to the royal wedding. The same cannot be said of Elton John: must we prepare to be drowned by another wave of gushing media-drive emotion come April 29th, inspired by his banal and syrupy lyrics?