LONDON — Patrick Doyle woke up in the middle of the night hearing trumpets. The film composer had been commissioned to write the music for King Charles’ Coronation March, so he quickly recorded the idea on his phone.
That’s part of what the Oscar-nominated composer calls the “rollercoaster” he’s been on, ahead of hearing the finished work performed on the global stage of Westminster Abbey on Saturday, May 6. Doyle says the four-minute piece is a march to commemorate King Charles’ life so far, compiled of four identifiable sections. It moves from a “bold heraldic opening that’s ceremonial and full of pageantry,” to a pacey, Celtic-influenced march, he explains. “The third movement is joyful and fun and it’s got sort of fireworks in it,” says Doyle. “And the final movement is, is reflective and romantic, and it leads to a triumphant climax. But I got the sense he’s quite a romantic person, the poet in him, and loves the arts and loves all music.”
Doyle, one of several composers tapped to create new music for the royal event, says King Charles has been “extremely generous” at remaining hands-off and trusting everyone to do their job. That’s not to say there aren’t restrictions.
The size of the organ loft in Westminster Abbey means there is a physical limit on the number of musicians who can perform at the venue. “It was three violas and only four cellos and only one trombone, a bass trombone; two horns instead of three horns, four horns; and so on. So you had to redesign how you thought of your normal way of composing for a symphony orchestra, so that was a challenge, as well as coming up with the piece itself.”
Doyle has worked around this by using instruments played at the extremes of their range – so violins go down to join the violas and the bass trombone sounds like a horn at the top of its register, to appeal to King Charles’ broad taste.
“He’s been brought up with marches, playing as part of that world that he inhabits, which is a unique world compared to the rest of us. But also, he loves the opera. He loves melody. He loves a memorable tune.”
Doyle’s film scores for “Hamlet” and “Sense and Sensibility” earned him Academy Award nominations; he’s also known for his work on “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “Carlito’s Way.” Now his composition of the 2023 Coronation March adds his name to an impressive lineage that includes Handel, Purcell and Elgar, which he found overwhelming.
“The wow factor is really high,” he says. “There’s a great legacy before me, but I had to not think about that and get on with my job.”
Another consideration is the vast venue itself.
He admits he had shortened notes to compensate for the abbey’s echo – then changed them back after realizing that the assembled orchestra would know how to handle the space.
This was proven at a recent rehearsal, which was recorded and sent to King Charles. “Our work can die or live on the strength of minutiae, the detail and the love and attention it gets. But when they all played it, it was phenomenal. Some of the best musicians in the country, throughout the U.K. Fabulous. I was thrilled with it.”
That’s not to say that the Coronation March is so complicated it can only be performed by professionals.
The brief was to compose a piece that could be played by bands all over the world. Doyle is especially delighted at the thought of Scottish wind bands giving the march an afterlife.
The composer describes his relationship with King Charles as a “professional friendship,”. He says he was very nervous and intimidated to be asked because ’it’s going to be shown in front of so many people, millions of people.”
Doyle and the King first met in 1988, when the composer played piano onstage for Kenneth Branagh’s production of “Twelfth Night”.
A lamp slid off the piano, knocking the sheet music all over the floor and causing Doyle to quip, “Has anybody seen page one?”
The then Prince Charles was seen laughing in the audience and when they were introduced afterwards, he suggested Doyle did it every night.
Doyle was also commissioned by Charles to compose music for the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday celebrations, in 1990.
Still, he was shocked to be invited to Westminster Abbey to attend the ceremony in person.
“I assumed I would be home watching it,” Doyle says. “When the invitation arrived, I was gobsmacked. “It’s hard to believe all this,” he smiles.