Walton: Crown Imperial
Walton: Crown Imperial
program notes by Chris Myers
Copyright © 2013 Chris Myers. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution or reproduction prohibited.
William Walton (1902-1983)
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, 3 percussion, harp, strings
Composed 1937. First performance: May 12, 1937, London, at the coronation of King George VI.
No one expected Prince Albert of York to end up on the throne. As the younger brother of an energetic and healthy crown prince, he quite naturally expected to live out his life in public service as a junior member of the royal family. This was probably just as well, as the prince suffered from a stammer, ulcers, had to wear corrective leg braces as a child, and was known to be extremely shy.
It was a bit of a shock, then, when the prince learned that his brother, having fallen in love with an American divorcée, had chosen to abdicate the throne rather than end his relationship with her. Suddenly, the man for whom public speaking had been disastrous felt the weight of the kingdom on his shoulders. A lifetime of facing obstacles had imbued him with determination and a strong spirit, though, and Albert, reigning as King George VI, proved to be a beloved and respected icon of moral strength and resolve when, just a year after his coronation, the nation found itself plunged into a fight for survival against the Axis powers.
The one person who had no doubts in Albert's fitness to reign? His father, King George V, who had remarked before his death, “I pray God that my eldest son will never marry and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne.”
The organizers of the 1937 coronation turned to William Walton to compose a new royal anthem, requesting that it be similar in tone and grandeur to those works written for the royal family by Edward Elgar, who had died in 1934. Walton was so successful in achieving this goal that the resulting piece has been affectionately referred to as “Pomp & Circumstance March No. 6”. Walton drew the title from William Dunbar’s poem “In Honour of the City of London”, which declares:
Empress of towns, exalt in honor
In beauty bearing the crown imperial,
Sweet paradise excelling in pleasure,
London, thou art the flower of Cities all.
Crown Imperial is structured in the ABABC form typical of many British marches. The piece is composed in C major, modulating to Ab for the more lyrical trio section before returning to the original key for a restatement of the material and a short coda.
Though originally intended (as was everything else for the coronation) for Edward VIII, the royal family quickly embraced the piece, and it has become a standard anthem at royal occasions, featuring prominently in both the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the wedding of her grandson, William, to Catherine Middleton.