With the up and coming celebrations for Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee it is a good time to reminisce about music that was written to celebrate other occasions in the Queen’s long and glorious reign. Apart from masterpieces like William Walton’s Orb & Sceptre March and Arthur Bliss’s Welcome to the Queen there are other occasional pieces such as the multi-composer a-cappella choral work A Garland for the Queen and Cedric Thorpe Davie’s Royal Mile: Coronation March.
Amongst the lesser-known pieces is Robert Farnon’s attractive State Occasion. The work was composed in 1953 and has been heard on a number of occasions. Of particular note was a performance given by The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines during the Royal tour of Canada in 1984. This celebrated the bi-centenary of the inauguration of New Brunswick and also the 150th anniversary of Robert Farnon’s birthplace, Toronto.
Robert Seeley writing in The Gramophone September 1992 suggests that this is a ‘mock-Waltonian march’ and I guess that this is a good description. However it does not quite have the bite and rhythmic drive of William Walton. Yet as the 2002/2003 Penguin Guide to Classical Music points out that ‘this short work could hardly sound more imperially British, and it is appropriate, if maybe not now politically correct...’ My own view is that if anyone is troubled by the ‘political’ nature of this work (or any of the ceremonial marches) then that is their problem!
State Occasion is rather short, lasting just under or over three minutes. The score suggests that the music be played ‘marziale pomposo’ and ‘marziale con maesta’. Certainly the ‘big’ tune (trio) is worthy of Elgar and Walton. Interestingly, Farnon does not reprise this tune, which I feel may be a slight ‘drop off’ as I imagine most listeners will be desperate to hear it again.
The piece is reasonably well represented in the CD Catalogues, including on Marco Polo, Reference Recordings, Naxos and Guild Light Music. Some of these links have a short extract of the work.