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Walton (1902-1983) - Coronation March: Orb and Sceptre

Inasmuch as they (along with countless others) follow the traditional ABAB pattern, Walton’s two coronation marches are similar in form, but otherwise they are a world apart. Crown Imperial, written for the coronation of George VI in 1937, sounds like (and indeed is) a direct descendent of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches. However I would beg to differ with the commentator who distinguishes Orb and Sceptre, written for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, purely on account of its being less “firmly diatonic” and more “richly chromatic” than its predecessor. By far the most striking feature of Orb and Sceptre is surely its sheer jazziness, both in its kinky syncopations and its “gratuitous” screeching dissonances. The dominant influence is surely the music of “The Age of Swing” that blossomed during the Second World War. 

Musically valid as such things are, I can’t help feeling that Walton must have been chancing his arm using them in music for a coronation, and I can well imagine that many conservative (small “c”) hackles rose at the first performance! Then again, if Walton was going to reflect the “spirit of the time”, which to some extent was his bounden duty, then really he had no option. Other than a fleeting and probably entirely deliberate echo of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March at the outset, the main section is “swing” all the way, particularly the rollicking trombones which are a far cry from Elgar’s equally nimble but much more square-footed beasts. Jazzy syncopations inflect even the traditionally pompous fanfares. Only the regal processional of the counter-subject seems unruffled by all this mid-century decadence - until the climax, that is. The cutting edge of the trumpets, and even more forcibly the piercing dissonances in the run-up to the Grand Reprise, surely owe something to the likes of Glen Miller and company. It sounds like a right royal knees-up to me!
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© Paul Serotsky
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