Arthur Bliss

The Royal Palaces Suite, for orchestra (from television score), F. 128a

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    This is a rich orchestral suite, rife with the particular pageantry of England, in the post-Romantic style of Vaughan Williams, or Walton.

    The death of Sir Arnold Bax in 1953 opened the ceremonial post of Master of the Queen's Musick. Sir Arthur Bliss (he had been knighted in 1950) received the appointment as his successor. He took the position (which is analogous to that of Poet Laureate) seriously, and composed ceremonial music as needed for royal occasions.

    Therefore, he was already linked to the institution of Royalty when, in 1966, he was engaged by the BBC to write the soundtrack for a documentary film telecast on Christmas Day of 1966. The film explored several important palaces belonging to British monarchs and historical events occurring therein. The prestige of the film was signaled by Bax's scoring it and Sir Kenneth Clark narrating it. Muir Matheson conducted the Sinfonia of London in the film scoring. Thereafter it had its primary success in a band arrangement made by Frank Erikson.

    In its original full orchestra form it comprises the following movements:

    1. "Queen Victoria's Call to the Throne." At the beginning of her lengthy reign Victoria was little more than a girl. Not born in close succession to the throne, an unlikely series of deaths in the Royal Family devolved the Crown unexpectedly on her. A quiet example of the species of British ceremonial march opens the suite, then tails off into a hush, broken by a soft snare drum tattoo as the unexpected news of her accession to the throne is announced.

    2. "The Ballroom in Buckingham Palace." This edifice in the heart of Metropolitan London is the symbol of the Monarchy and the Queen's main official residence. It has also been a place where styles are set, as when Queen Victoria legitimized the scandalous waltz by dancing it with her husband, Prince Albert. This, perhaps for that reason, is a light-footed and whimsical waltz, which rises to a whirling conclusion.

    3. "Joust of the Knights in Armour" (George IV's reign). This is a portrait not of the days of knighthood and chivalry, but of one of Britain's most hated kings, George IV, who (among other things) in economic hard times spent lavishly to prepare historical pageants (including a joust) in his Coronation ceremonies. Bliss' music is brassy and vainglorious.

    4. "Melodrama: The Murder of Rizzio in Holyrood House." The Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh was a seat for the kings of Scotland from the twelfth century, and remains an official (though rarely used) British royal residence. One of the most notorious events to occur within its stone walls was the murder of Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, on order from Lord Dabney, her husband. Bliss' fast, driven music is straight out of film noir style.

    5. "The Royal Palace, Theme." The main theme of the series and a return to the stately British ceremonial march, this time full-blown and lush.

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    CHAN 9896