Classically Speaking with Jim Lange
2:34 pm
Sun December 1, 2013

Of Monarchs and Music

I love music history DVDs.

Blame it on my laziness (or my age). Those endless, small-print historical tomes with their insanely detailed texts only make my head swim. My eyes want to drink in the glorious cathedrals and paintings, to hear the perfect choirs and ensembles; all the while a dulcet-toned narrator guides me through musical antiquity. 

A feast for the eyes, ears and mind.
A feast for the eyes, ears and mind.
Credit athenalearning.com

David Starkey's Music and Monarchy looks at history through a unique lens: how did the various Kings and Queens use music for battle, ceremony, recreation and most importantly, as a way of creating an identity for their court and subsequently defining the songs of a nation?

The short answer is that some monarchs, like Henry V and VIII, were deeply involved in music as ceremony, as a tool for stirring nationalistic fervor, as prayer and of course, that most mystical of subjects-love. Others, like Queen Victoria, who eschewed public ceremony, while championing the music of Mendelssohn, but did little to foster British music.

The often curious relationship between monarchy and music through six centuries is the focus of this four hour series. We begin with Henry V and end with Elizabeth II.

Starkey marries music and place with key pieces, such as Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, that has been part of royal ceremony in Westminster Abbey since the 18th century. Live performances at Westminster and other historical sites are the true delight of this series.

The performers are top notch: the choir of Westminster Abbey, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, King's College Choir just to name a few.

The moments that always are a highlight are when Starkey engages with music professionals like Richard Egarr. Suddenly the passion for music lights up their faces and cameras are forgotten. We can't help but join in their joy.

Starkey (left) and the King's College choir.
Starkey (left) and the King's College choir.

David Starkey is what, we might call, an affable chap. He speaks with authority without lecturing us and that's a good thing. What's bad is the sometimes awkward moments of when Starkey remains in the shot, intently listening and nodding his head in approval. Let the musical moments speak for themselves, I say.

This is a delightful set and I highly recommend it. One viewing is not enough and the quality of the production could bear multiple viewings.

Purchase this at Amazon.