6 glorious performances of England’s national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’
9 July 2021, 16:30 | Updated: 9 July 2021, 16:51
Hand on heart, lift your voice to these sweeping renditions of England and Britain’s stoic national anthem.
The English National Anthem is at once rousing and nostalgic, mighty and steadfast.
Indeed, the official anthem of Britain and the Commonwealth, ‘God Save the Queen’, lends a dignity or gravitas to any occasion – from the sports fixtures it’s regularly required at, to a star-studded national event at the Royal Albert Hall.
And many a musician, footballer, sports superstar and eager audience member has belted it out in their lifetime.
But there are those iconic interpretations of the national anthem that have really left their mark on us – be that for sheer virtuosity, or for the unusual forces delivering the unwaveringly patriotic tune.
Here we celebrate six of the very best versions of the British National Anthem we’ve seen.
The Queen’s Six
Bathe in the rich, scrunchy harmonies of The Queen’s Six, who performed this full-voiced rendition of Her Majesty’s anthem in the hallowed walls of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, which has been shaped by the British Monarchy.
Their voices seemingly melt together in this soulful rendition of the anthem, lifting it to new musical heights.
Indomitable soprano Jessye Norman
Legendary American soprano Jessye Norman wrapped her impressive vocal chords around the British national anthem in 1986.
Performing in front of Her Majesty The Queen herself, at the ‘Fanfare for Queen Elizabeth’ event for the Queen’s 60th birthday, Norman opted for a powerful and dignified take on the patriotic tune.
This version is defined by elongated notes and a chorus backing to shower the whole thing in a sense of royal occasion. The chorus also grounds it so Norman can take flight and really open up into her top register for the second half of the oft-heard first stanza.
Plus – expect drum rolls, symbols, and full band backing. Wonderful.
Succinct power from Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
From one opera legend to another… New Zealand lyric soprano Kiri Te Kanawa performed the national anthem at a similarly dignified event – again in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, this time for the Coronation Festival Gala Concert outdoor at Buckingham Palace.
Kanawa’s version opens with pomp and circumstance in the form of a be-busbied soldier duo brass fanfare, followed by a succinct operatic presentation of the anthem’s first stanza.
And Kanawa saves the very best ‘til last – just listen to that final note.
Steven Isserlis and Amarins Wierdsma
While in isolation last May, world-famous English cellist Steven Isserlis duetted with violinist Amarins Wierdsma to produce this triumphant string arrangement of the enduring melody from his music room at home.
The vibrato-drenched variations breathe new life into an age-old strain.
'God Save the Queen' – Steven Isserlis and Amarins Wierdsma
World-famous cellist Steven Isserlis plays 'God Save the Queen' from his living room with Amarins Wierdsma - Violinist! ❤️ Full At-Home concert on our YouTube channel 👉 https://youtu.be/dlUjw_9rjSkPosted by Classic FM on Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Florida Orchestra pranks British conductor
As British music director Michael Francis raised his baton to the Florida Orchestra, expecting to receive the familiar opening of America’s anthem ‘Oh, say can you see…’ with crashing cymbals aplenty, the musicians instead seamlessly swept into England’s national anthem in a wholesome tribute to their conductor.
Overwhelmed, Francis placed a hand over his heart and mimed along to the tune of his homeland.
Virtuosic violin greatness via Paganini
Italian virtuoso violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini wasn’t immune to getting swept up in producing his own iconic version of the British national anthem (although if he could see into the future, and spy the England v Italy Euro 2020 final he might have felt less inclined to give it the time of day).
He takes the dignified melody and turns it into a fiendish-yet-flippant study for the violin – all lefthand pizzicato, dramatic spread chords, and fast finger work.
We very much approve, and applaud the Italian maestro for the maturity of honouring our national anthem in spite of our ongoing competition on hallowed football grounds.
Watch violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann bus through the mind-bending variations below.