William Walton: Orb and Sceptre
William Walton’s famous march for orchestra, Orb and Sceptre, was composed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953. Walton is often remembered for also composing the march for the coronation of George VI in 1937, also known as Crown Imperial. Orb and Sceptre takes a similar form to that of coronation marches that have come before, which were influenced heavily by Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches. From the fanfare opening to the lyrical middle and triumphant end, Orb and Sceptre incorporates it all to make a memorable coronation march.
Opening with a grand and bright trumpet fanfare in E major, the march quickly moves into the famous march section. Walton uses off-beats in both the melody and accompaniment to shift the focus around the orchestra. The rich textures Walton creates are exciting and very celebratory with his use of percussion.
The middle lyrical section shifts into C major. The dynamic is quieter, but the string melody is still grand and fit for royalty. The long sweeping lines are soon supported by the rest of the orchestra, with counter-melodies and cymbal rolls colouring the timbre. The section becomes more stately as the music gets ready to recap the opening material.
A short trumpet fanfare leads the orchestra back into the opening melody, back in E major. This time Walton utilises more of the orchestra, with the percussion constantly ticking away as the brass begin to play more intricate themes. The melody goes between the fanfaring brass and the stately strings, which creates a really interesting musical conversation over the orchestra.
As the music begins to be pulled back in tempo, the orchestra prepares for the upcoming short and fast coda section. Hints of melodies that have been and gone return here before fanfares burst through the texture before the rousing finish.
Unlike Crown Imperial, Williams Walton’s Orb and Sceptre certainly has more fun with harmony throughout. The subtle dissonances paired with the syncopated rhythms make it quite the spectacle. A piece fit for a Queen!
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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