On Saturdays we post homeschool Arts & Music notes, and today we’ll do that in conjunction with a notable historical and cultural anniversary. Today is the 65th (!) anniversary of the coronation of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. She is now the longest-reigning monarch in a thousand years of British history, and (as far as I’ve been able to determine) the longest-serving female head of state in the history of the world.
A number of musical compositions were specially commissioned for Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, and one of these was a grand and vast arrangement of the hymn tune known as “Old Hundredth.” Old Hundredth has been one of the most widely sung pieces of music in the world for centuries, and every educated person, whether Christian or non-Christian, should be familiar with it as part of the musical heritage of the West.
Old Hundredth is so called because it is the tune most commonly used with William Kethe’s 1561 translation of Psalm 100 from the Old Testament:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.
The tune itself is attributed to the French composer Loys Bourgeois (ca. 1510 – ca. 1560). It’s simple and beautiful — perhaps one of your homeschool music students can learn to play it:
But a simple piano piece like that is surely not suitable for a royal coronation! Here’s one little lesson for your homeschoolers: musicians regularly take a simple tune, like Old Hundredth, and then create from it a much more elaborate arrangement with many more instruments, an arrangement that gives a very different musical impression even though the underlying melody is the same.
After you’ve played the lovely piano version of Old Hundredth above, listen to how British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) arranged it for Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation. Turn up the volume on this one and it will rattle your windows:
(That recording is from the 50th anniversary celebration of Elizabeth’s coronation, in 2003 — now 15 years ago — and the video is interspersed with footage from the original 1953 ceremony.)
Can your students come up with other simple tunes that have been given complex and elaborate arrangements? One example you could send them off to explore is the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts,” which became the central theme in Aaron Copland’s orchestral suite “Appalachian Spring.”
What musical and artistic discoveries have you made in your homeschool lately? 😊
❡ Explore more: You can find several lists of noted musical composers and performers on pages 214–222 in your recommended world almanac (riverhouses.org/books). Why not use those lists to make up an impromptu homeschool research project: have your students copy out separate lists of composers from different centuries, or from different countries, and find examples of their music online. Can you get a sense for how musical styles changed from century to century? Are there distinct national styles that you can recognize?