Queen Elizabeth II plays piano, sang madrigals at Windsor, and has two honorary music degrees

22 April 2021, 13:05

Princess Elizabeth playing the piano in Buckingham Palace, 1946.
Princess Elizabeth playing the piano in Buckingham Palace, 1946. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A brief history of Her Majesty’s musical training, and unwavering devotion to the arts world.

Queen Elizabeth II is a generous patron of classical music and an unwavering devotee to Britain’s musical life, regularly attending concerts, awarding musicians with the highest honours and supporting the nation’s military bands and orchestras.

Her Majesty’s commitment to the arts, perhaps unsurprisingly for a child of the British Monarchy, can be traced back to her early years.

Princess Elizabeth, along with her sister Princess Margaret, was bathed in music from a young age.

The Queen Mother and the girls’ governess, taught the princesses at home, focusing on literature, language, history and music.

Read more: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s contribution to classical music >

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret seated together at the piano at Windsor Castle, 1940.
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret seated together at the piano at Windsor Castle, 1940. Picture: Getty

As children of the 1930s, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spent the wartime period at Windsor Castle, where they were placed under the tutelage of St George’s Chapel’s resident organist.

Sir William Henry Harris was an English organist and composer, affectionately known as ‘Doc H’ to his choristers. Once a week at Windsor, he led madrigal practice for the chorister, and the two Princesses would sing alongside the senior choristers.

Princess Elizabeth watches her sister, Princess Margaret play a Brahms Waltz on the piano in the school room at Buckingham Palace.
Princess Elizabeth watches her sister, Princess Margaret play a Brahms Waltz on the piano in the school room at Buckingham Palace. Picture: Getty

Does Queen Elizabeth II play the piano?

At 11 years old, Princess Elizabeth learned to play piano. Princess Margaret was better known for being the singer and pianist in the family, while Elizabeth had a greater passion for the outdoors, horses and dogs, which she has nurtured throughout her long life.

However, the elder sister continued to play for her own enjoyment.

In 2018, The Queen famously addressed the nation for her traditional Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day with a rather elaborate gold piano in the background.

The gilded instrument was made by Erard in 1856, during the reign of Queen Victoria, who was deeply passionate about music and would play duets with her husband, Albert.

Read more: Who made the Queen’s gold grand piano? And how much is it worth? >

Princess Elizabeth plays the piano as Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret look on at the Royal Lodge in Windsor Castle
Princess Elizabeth plays the piano as Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret look on at the Royal Lodge in Windsor Castle, 1942. Picture: Getty

How has Queen Elizabeth II contributed to the arts and music?

The Queen has two honorary degrees in Music, a Bachelor of Music from University of London, and Doctor of Music from the University of Wales. Both were awarded before she ascended the throne and are symbolic of her devotion to music.

In 1973, the Queen presented the Queen Mother with an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Royal College of Music.

The Queen authorised the first female Master of the Queen’s Music, Scottish composer Judith Weir, whose royal appointment made history in 2014.

Read more: 10 British composers who shaped the nation’s classical music legacy >

George VI watches as Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) plays piano
George VI watches as Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) plays piano. Picture: Getty

Her support for the classical music industry has been unwavering. In 2005, Her Majesty inaugurated The Queen’s Music Medal, an award presented annually to outstanding musicians, whose acclaimed recipients include opera singer Sir Bryn Terfel, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and violinist Nicola Benedetti.

As the Royal Family’s website states, “The purpose of this award is to raise the general profile of music within the UK and to reward individuals who have had a major influence on the musical life of the nation.”

Her Majesty frequently includes musicians in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, has opened several concert halls, and is often seen attending concerts.

Her support for the industry also stretches to her support of military bands and orchestras, whose working musicians rely on the pomp and circumstance of the Queen.