Today, Queen Elizabeth II’s become Britain’s longest reigning monarch. While researching my book on national anthems, I asked the royal household how many times she’s had to listen to God Save the Queen during her reign.
They didn’t know.
I then asked if she liked it.
They declined to reply!
But if you want some insight into what it’s like being her and having an anthem about you, sung at you, nearly every day, it’s easy to find hints.
During George IV’s reign from 1820-1830, God Save the King was so popular it was sung in theatres every night, especially if the king was present.
In 1826, it was sung so much a mysterious figure called W.S sent a four-page missive to the popular Harmonicon magazine complaining about the song and “begging leave to offer some suggestions to those who sing it.”
“On a royal visit to the theatre, [the anthem] is invariably required not only on his majesty’s entrance, but also at his departure and, not infrequently, between play and farce; thus, by the further aid of encore, [the number of renditions] swells from six to 12, 15 and not impossibly 18 repetitions on one night,” he writes.
“[Given that], I humbly advocate the infusion of a spice of that universally-admitted charm of human life – variety!”
W.S then calls on singers to embellish the anthem with trills as if they were 19th century Mariah Careys; he pleads with them to change the harmonies; he urges them to try singing it solo, or in duos and trios, as well as the usual choir. He comes very close to shouting, “Bloody hell, just sing another tune!”
Who was this W.S? Most likely William Shield, the ‘Master of the King’s Musick’, and the belief is that George IV asked him to write it.
Elizabeth II clearly has a bit more restraint!
As a bonus, here’s a version she might actually like listening to today: Benjamin Britten’s. It starts exceedingly quietly, Britten deciding to make it sound like the prayer that the words imply. Still, not a good song for the republicans among you!