Monday, 23 May 2016


Queen Victoria in her Coronation Robes
Today citizens of Canada proudly celebrate the official birthday (note: not the actual birthday) of the nation's 19th century Constitutional Monarch, Queen Victoria, who reigned over the Great White North for the staggering length of nearly 64 years, making the former Queen the countries' third longest reigning monarch, just behind current Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II – who recently surpassed Victoria on the occasion of her 90th birthday last month, and whose reign now clocks in at over 64 years and counting; and that of 17th-to-early 18th century French King Louis XIV who reigned for over 72 years.

Today, unravelingmusicalmyths takes a look back at the generous patronage of Victoria to the world of Western Classical Music.

It is perhaps thanks in part to Hollywood’s occasional foray into the lives and times of the great (and not so great) Monarchs Britain that even laymen of history will be familiar with the whirlwind romance of the Princess and later Queen Victoria and her consort (and first cousin) Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to whom she wed in 1840 at the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace in London. Victoria and Albert’s courtship and marriage was most unusual for a royal marriage – much like the Scottish Queen, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (also a former Canadian Sovereign as Queen Consort to the sickly 16th century French King Francis II), it was the Queen herself who proposed marriage to her future husband, filled to the brim with girlish brooding – although in Victoria’s case, the feelings of passion were more than mutual, and had a far happier ending, in spite of both Queens’ reluctance to share with their spouse The Crown Matrimonial.

What is perhaps less known is the Royal couple’s impassioned and generous patronage of music – a shared affinity that would be tantamount into bringing the young relatives together before betrothal.
In fact, the Queen Victoria would famously declare of her soon-to-be husband his prowess in the arena, when she penned the words “he sang to me some of his own compositions, which are beautiful, and he has a very fine voice. I also sang for him…” in the day following her proposal to her royal fiancée.

Victoria & Albert's gorgeous gilded piano, now
part of the Royal Collection Trust. Click here
to learn more about this exquisite instrument.
So cherished was the performance of music, and the creation of music that the princely duo would make it a frequent occurrence to perform for each other the works of famous contemporary composers – and, most impressively – pieces of music the Consort Albert himself had composed, which he would serenade Victoria with as she sat at the court’s gilded golden piano (in addition to having well established singers and pianists perform selections from Albert’s repertoire. The consort-king would also famously take a seat at the piano himself).

So well admired were the works of Albert it is said that were it not for the role in which the Royal consort was stationed at birth, and the expectations expected of a figure representing such a role, the Prince would have pursued a career in composition. Few of Albert’s compositions survive, most of which had been composed prior to the couple’s Royal marriage, but those of which are presently made available convey a level of talent comparable to that of Schubert or Schumann – this, in spite of Albert humbly considering himself an “amateur musician.”

Among the frequent guest performers at the couple’s residence at Buckingham Palace was the famous 19th century German composer Felix Mendelssohn, who, as historical evidence charmingly dictates, made the Royal couple weak in the knees.

So stalwart an admirer was Albert of Mendelssohn and his oeuvre, he arranged for the Queen to meet the famous romantic era composer by orchestrating a private concert for the pair at Buckingham Palace following a most pleasing visit with the composer the prior evening, in which Mendelssohn had traveled to London to hand deliver to Albert a correspondence from the consorts’ cousin, Frederick William IV, King of Prussia. Mendelssohn happily obliged, and, as the saying goes – the rest was history. It was later recorded, following the composer’s first visit to the royal palace, that the giddy couple was more than excited (and quite nervous) at meeting their musical hero, with one Mendelssohn biographer describing the overindulgent pair as “quite fluttery” for “all their exalted station.” Victoria would as much as confirm this when she took to her diary to recall the couples first meeting with the composer: "After dinner came Mendelssohn, whose acquaintance I was so anxious to make…”

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Felix would become a staple member of the musical royal household and of the private repertoire performed by the couple at Buckingham Palace, having performed for the Queen his famous Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words), and performing impressive musical feats such as improvising on the themes of the Austrian national anthem and the British patriotic, “Rule Britannia,” to which the Sovereign was much impressed, recording in her trusty diary: “He began immediately and really I have never heard anything so beautiful, the way in which he blended them both together and changed over from one to the other, was quite wonderful as well as the exquisite harmony and feeling he puts into the variations, and the powerful rich chords, and modulations, which reminded me of all his beautiful compositions.”

Strauss I
This homage-of sorts to the Queen and to Britain had been preceded 4 years earlier in 1838 by another famous composer of whom Victoria patronized: grandfather of the waltz, Johann Strauß the Elder (-Strauss I), who, following a disastrous debut at London, would climb his way to success through mingling in high circles (of the British nobility), and through the patronage of the then-Princess Victoria in whom Strauß was commissioned to provide for the state ball honoring Victoria’s accession to the throne a sequence of waltzes, which Strauß complied, penning his famous Huldigung der Konigin Victoria von Grossbritannie (An Homage to Queen Victoria of Great Britain):

Edward Elgar
Yet another member of the musical arts in whom Victoria and Albert supported was a formative Edward Elgar – whose astronomical rise to success would later see the English composer gainfully employed as Master of the King’s Musik under King George V (grandson to Victoria and Albert).

In addition to assisting in the makings of musical icons and rubbing shoulders with Classical music’s elite, Victoria herself would famously patronize many an opera and theater, attending some fifty performances annually!

Further reading:


Canada as we know it today is known as a Sovereign State. It is also one of the 16 Commonwealth countries that comprise the Commonwealth of Nations. This makes the present reigning Queen, Elizabeth II the nation's current Head of State.

Our great nation’s (I am a proud Canuck) ties to the Royal family extends back centuries, and includes rulers of both Britain and France, covering Canada’s pre-confederate standing as Colonies of both Britain and France, and, later as a British Dominion upon the nation’s Confederation in 1867. Through many years of constitutional action, the Dominion would not achieve full autonomy until 1931, under the so-called Statute of Westminster Act.

This meant that Canada would be re-born as an Independent Nation whilst sharing as Head of State the Sovereign of the United Kingdom alongside other members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

To many Canadians, the passing of this Statute would seemingly render the ‘powers’ of the Monarch inconsequential. This is not altogether true, in that our current Head of State remains the Queen, who, aside from performing what are essentially ceremonial duties, continues to retain the power over the assignation of the Nations governors general (the chief representative of the Crown in a given commonwealth nation), and provides assent for the passing of bills into law.

The Sovereign’s role in the Canadian Government can be quite confusing for many a citizen. Currently “the executive government and authority of and over Canada” is vested in the Queen through the Nation’s constitution. However, the actual role of the Sovereign is quite minimal: this is because, as an autonomous nation, the Queen agrees to delegate the vast majority of her powers to the current and the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government – currently Justin Trudeau, the countries Prime Minister, who governs on the “Queen's Behalf,” passing laws in her name ‘using her authority.’ Other duties of the Sovereign are performed by the aforementioned Governor General, with each province representing the Queen via a lieutenant governor.

The Queen is also the nation’s commander-in-chief of the Canadian armed forces.

The Queen Victoria, however, is unique in the aspect that the Monarch was the first Queen to have been occupying the British Throne upon Canada’s Confederation (when Canada became a nation: the Dominion of Canada, on July 1, 1867), and is known colloquially as the “Mother of the Confederation.” Although there exists no evidence of Victoria acknowledging the landmark occasion in the many letters of the Queen that survive, the Queen’s influence can still be felt today across the nation in it’s many preserved architectural wonders of the so-called Victorian era, and in the names of both cities and capitals themselves, which the former Sovereign both named and approved (it was Victoria’s selection of Ottawa as the capital of the United Province of Canada that would allow the Ontario city to remain the nation’s Capital) and in the many institutions named after her.

Join in the singing of Our great Nations' Royal Anthem "God Save the Queen" with Prince William
and Duchess Kate (filmed during an earlier performance for the separate Canada Day holiday):

Discover more:
  • A brief retrospective of the National anthem “God save the King/Queen” - Composition history and the hunt for the originator of the tune at Cmuse
  • A timeline of Canadian Monarchs at Wikipedia

Happy Victoria Day!


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