David Starkey is to present a four-part series for BBC Two on British music and monarchy – marking this year’s 60th anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation.
As announced at Thursday’s BBC ‘Alive with Music’ event, the series is to be broadcast in the early spring, and will tell the story of how the monarchy has shaped the history of British music.
In his first authored television series for BBC Television, David Starkey will show how the lives of our greatest composers and musicians are inextricably linked to the destinies of so many of our monarchs – and demonstrate how much history can be read from some of the nation’s best-loved works, including ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘God Save the Queen’, and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. This is the music of ceremony, pageantry, and power; music composed for coronations and jubilees, thanks-giving and political expediency.
The series is scored with music – from national anthems to neglected treasures – performed live in the historic locations that they were originally composed for. At locations including Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, King’s College Cambridge and St Paul’s Cathedral, Starkey uncovers the historic contexts of these works – and delves into the stories behind their creation. Beneath the familiar pomp and circumstance of the music he will find radical innovations and cultural revolutions, as well as personal drama and political significance.
David Starkey, historian and presenter, said: “Making this series has been a delight, it has forced me to see historical problems, familiar to me as a political historian, in a quite unexpected light. It has also been an anecdotal pleasure: music speaks to monarchs and elicits some surprising replies! I have been privileged to hear some of the finest music in the canon, sung and played by some of the best performers. It is a royal pageant in music, and, thanks to the magic of television, one we can all now take part in.”
Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor for Music and Events, said: “We are delighted that historian David Starkey will bring his in-depth knowledge and talented presentation to BBC Two for this new four-part series exploring British music and monarchy. With the help of leading musicians he will bring to life the majesty of Royal British music and explore the history behind some of Britain’s best-loved works.”
The series spans six centuries, from the reign of Henry V – revealing him to be a composer as well as heroic war-leader – and concludes with Queen Elizabeth II. Starkey argues that thanks to royal patronage, the music of Britain was at times renowned throughout Europe: for its extraordinary complex choral music in the medieval era, innovative instrumental music in the seventeenth century; as a centre of freedom and wealth in the 18th century, capable of attracting the very best composers from all over Europe; and as the leading imperial power in the Victorian era.
Among the featured composers are William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Henry Purcell, George Frederic Handel, Hubert Parry and Edward Elgar – as well as royals themselves including Henry VIII and Albert, Prince Consort.
Featured musicians include the choirs of Westminster Abbey, King’s College Cambridge and St Paul’s; the Band of the Life Guards, the Academy of Ancient Music, Alamire and Fretwork. David also talks with leading musicians including Richard Egarr, David Owen Norris and Elin Mahan Thomas. On his journey he also hears the most important surviving collection of medieval music, the Eton Choirbook, sung from Eton’s college chapel; the oldest surviving music from a coronation; the music of the English Civil War; and Victoria and Albert’s golden grand piano in action.
The programme is an Oxford Film and Television Series; the executive producer is Nick Kent and BBC executive producer is Greg Sanderson. The series was ordered by Commissioning Editor, Music and Events, Jan Younghusband for Controller of BBC Two, Janice Hadlow.