ANY fear that the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral would be diminished by the imposition of Covid restrictions was quickly dispelled.
The service music was no exception and was performed, not by the full St George’s Chapel choir of men and boys, but by just three of the lay clerks: alto Tom Lilburn, tenor Nicholas Madden, and bass Simon Whiteley, with the soprano Miriam Allan taking the treble line. Ms Allen is married to another lay clerk at Windsor; so all the singers live within the Castle walls.
Many aspects of the day were said to have been planned by the Duke himself, including the music, and it is good to remember that two of the pieces, Benjamin Britten’s Jubilate and the guitarist and composer William Lovelady’s setting of Psalm 104 were actually commissioned by him: the Britten in 1961, written for St George’s Chapel, and the Lovelady, originally a three-movement cantata in honour of the Duke’s 75th birthday in 1996, adapted for the funeral by the director of music at St George’s, James Vivian.
In a blog post entitled “Did they mention the music?” the composer John Rutter wrote on Tuesday about the “meticulous planning of keys”.
He writes: “It was all built around G, minor and major, which we were prepared for by the final pre-service organ voluntary, Vaughan Williams’s Rhosymedre Prelude in the major, leading into a subdued improvisation in the minor. William Croft’s timeless Burial Sentences followed (G minor) . . . and after the Bidding Prayer, Dykes’s beloved “Eternal Father” (in the related key of the subdominant major, C). . .
“We stay in C major for Britten’s Jubilate written at the Duke’s request in 1961, brisk, concise and no-nonsense (qualities he would have encouraged, no doubt) . . . a return to G minor for William Lovelady’s Psalm 104 setting, its key and ground-bass structure echoing one of the greatest of all laments, Dido’s from Purcell’s opera . . . William Smith’s Responses from the early 17th century bringing a shaft of sunlight in G major, then the Russian Kontakion returning to sombre G minor, a sidestep to G minor’s relative major for the Last Post in B flat, its subdominant E flat for Reveille, and a sense of return and release with the National Anthem in G major.
“Beethoven couldn’t have planned it better. Non-musicians will not have been consciously aware of all this thread of careful planning, but, trust me, the funeral service wouldn’t have felt the same without it.”