John Rutter: TV failed the music at Prince Philip’s funeral

John Rutter: TV failed the music at Prince Philip’s funeral


norman lebrecht

April 21, 2021

From a blogpost by the eminent church composer:

I channel-hopped around the post-funeral TV coverage following the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Amid all the torrents of expert or would-be expert verbiage about the service and those attending it, I heard not one word of comment about the music which had formed such a crucial part of the funeral service, much less any commendation of the musicians who had planned and executed it with such flawless professionalism and unstinting commitment.

Was I surprised? Not really. I learned a bitter lesson as a young organist sometimes drafted in to play at weddings: not everyone loves and cares about music as you do….

The music at a church service is generally not the work of a single composer, and the task of whoever plans the service – in this case with some required inclusions of music chosen by the Duke – is to make it all fit together and flow smoothly, which was triumphantly achieved at Windsor, working with the Covid constraints allowing only a solo quartet of voices rather than the full choir. If you have studied (say) the structure of a Beethoven symphony, you will know how important the key structure is in binding a whole work together. And at the funeral there was similarly meticulous planning of keys. (Skip the next bit if it doesn’t interest you.) 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) – in James Vivian’s arrangement boldly leaving the first verse to an unaccompanied solo voice, rather like the lone trumpet at the start of The Godfather which makes you pay attention and listen. 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…

Read on here. 



  • La belle plus voix says:

    James Vivian conducted excellently. It was a lesson to all in how to give a strong, organic beat that gathers everything together musically, without looking as if one is actually doing that. This may sound an odd comparison, but a famous England cricketer comes to mind.

  • John Kelly says:

    A very interesting post. As a viewer in the USA, where several cable channels broadcast the whole ceremony with no commentary or advertisements (unusually), there were several post-ceremony comments by broadcasters that were highly complimentary about the music and musicians. Personally I found it all rather wonderful.

  • Gary Freer says:

    and this wasn’t Kiri te Kanawa or Elton John, but four singers from the regular choir, or the spouse of one of them. A wonderful illustration of the glories and the depth of the Church of England’s choral tradition. Chapeau to the tenor in particular.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    It’s a brilliant analysis of the service.
    Two telling points for me:
    Point one: Rutter’s statement that “not everyone loves and cares about music as you do.” True and truer.
    Point two: the first musician he names is Henry Mancini.
    Rutter is a man of good taste!

  • M. L. Liu says:

    From across the pond: I don’t watch TV and I don’t follow the British royalty, but I listened to BBC radio and then watched a video of the funeral. I was enchanted.

    And now, having read John Ritter’s excellent piece, I am astonished.

    I wasn’t aware that the Duke of Edinburgh was musical, but apparently he was. He commissioned a work from Britten (mentioned in Mr. Ritter’s article) and — if I am not mistaken — designed the proceedings of his own funeral, including the musical choices.

    Further investigation turned up that the Duke was appointed (by his spouse) the ‘Ranger’ of the Windsor Castle and apparently masterminded its renovation after the 1992 fire (incidentally rendering it financially independent).

    The Duke also championed youth advancements and elegance in modern designs. All of this came to light only after his death

    Prince Philip lived a privileged life and he had his faults, but my hat is off to him.

    (I just might re-watch the funeral video with Mr. Ritter’s piece in hand. There is much to be learned from it.)

    • Elizabeth Owen says:

      Well we in Britain and the Commonwealth knew about him and his love of art and conservation. His Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has been widely recognised all over the world with thousands if not millions of participants. he was also a founder of what was called the World Wild Life Fund.

  • Old Bob says:

    Well said.

    I nearly said, “Well said, Sir John” but then realised that one of the UK’s greatest exports has (shamefully) not been granted a knighthood…

    • Michael Emmerson says:

      Absolutely right, Bob, John Rutter’s “gong” is long overdue and not only because he is one of the UK’s greatest exports!

  • Nick Schleppend says:

    Comme toujours . . .

    Cherchez les hommes!

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Ah, the curse of perfect pitch 🙂

  • emily.bahr says:

    Well, Rutter should know about musical fails – he’s written enough of them, beloved by the English middle class. What an insipid and vacuous non-entity!

  • Rose H says:

    I missed the live broadcast but watched the BBC coverage online a few hours later online. I must say this was a poignant, peaceful and dignified funeral service and the selected music pieces were excellent and fitting. I have since listened to them several times. Rest peacefully Prince Philip