Museum open online 24/7. 365 (or 366) days/year

The Cellist Formerly Known as Prince (of Wales): King Charles III

To celebrate the coronation of King Charles III, here is a brief exploration of his cello connections.

The Cellist Formerly Known as Prince (of Wales) King Charles III

As I write this, preparations are underway for the coronation of King Charles III – the cellist formerly known as Prince (of Wales). This makes two low-string world leaders – with Emperor Naruhito of Japan being a violist who became emperor on the abdication of his cellist father, Akihito, the Emperor Emeritus of Japan. (Please let me know if you know of any other political leaders who are cellists or at least other low-string players.) If only Yo-Yo Ma were eligible to run for President of the United States, we could move even closer to a world led by cellists.

Although I’m an American with mixed feelings about the monarchy, I fondly remember the excitement almost forty-two years ago of getting up early with my maternal grandmother to watch the royal wedding of then-Prince Charles and Lady Diana on my grandparents’ enormous TV. But I had no idea that the then Prince of Wales and I had something in common – we both play the cello.

At that point in my life, I didn’t know much about either the cello (as my third instrument, I’d only been playing it for about three years) or British cello history (the subject I later chose for my specialization). Still, I was impressed with the pageantry, the magnificent architectural spaces shown in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the grandeur of the music. If only a cellist had performed as Sheku Kanneh-Mason did at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding!

Later I became a true Anglophile, having spent my formative early adult years living and studying in England. While I chose to focus on what I think of as “cellos of the people” rather than royal or even concert instruments, I was always impressed with the connections between Princes of Wales and the cello.

King Charles and the Cello

When I was studying British cello history at Oxford, my focus was mainly on its 17th and 18th-century history. But, in one of my meetings with Jeremy Montagu, he asked if I’d thought of learning more about the Prince of Wales, Charles. That’s when I learned that he played the cello. He actually played the piano, trumpet, and cello but played the cello through his undergraduate studies, performing in a concert with the Trinity College Orchestra.

Listen to King Charles talk about his earliest memory of classical music – one shared with his grandmother – in an interview with Alan Titchmarch on Classic FM:

“I used to try and play the cello, which I loved. ” – King Charles III

Here is a video clip of Charles and Diana in Australia, meeting music professors and students and kindly playing a few notes Themselves.

A Wedding Present from Mstislav Rostropovich

Turning back to the wedding of the then Prince Charles and Lady Diana, at the time, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich offered to play for them as a wedding present. Instead of accepting this offer as a private concert, the event was held at the Barbican, so that more people could enjoy the performance – and it could be used as a fundraiser. Here is some video footage from the event. It is interesting to see Rostropovich practicing fingerings on the back of his right hand, but I doubt this was due to nerves, as suggested by the commentator, but more something to keep occupied while waiting to be presented.

Arts Advocate and Passionate Patron

“Charles is the most culturally attuned monarch for well over a century.” – Alex Marshall, The New York Times

He has been the patron of more than twenty performing arts organizations, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Royal College of Music. He even conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra for the Queen Consort’s 60th birthday, in a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.

As a cellist and music lover, The King is a powerful advocate for music education. He told Radio 3 presenter Michael Berkley:

“I’m one of those people who believes in the importance of arts education and music education in schools. Apart from anything else, I think people forget – or may not realise – what an enormous contribution the creative arts make to the whole economy. It’s immense.” – King Charles III

New Music for the Coronation

King Charles commissioned twelve new works for the coronation by composers including Judith Weir, Roxanna Panufnik, Patrick Doyle, Sarah Class, Paul Mealor, Iain Farrington, Christopher Robinson, Debbie Wiseman, Tarik O’Regan, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Half of these new works are for orchestra and will be performed by the specially-formed Coronation Orchestra before the ceremony, before the arrival of Their Majesties at the Abbey. The first will be an overture by the Master of the King’s Music, Judith Weir, called “Brighter Visions Shine Afar.”

Although no major cello works are planned for the coronation, the composers represented by new commissions have written some wonderful cello pieces. Here is “Resonate” by Sarah Class, one of the coronation composers, for piano, cello, and orchestra, featuring the composer on the piano and cellist Caroline Dale with the Orchestra for the Earth with the London Recording Orchestra conducted by John Warner.

Your Turn

What cello memories do you have of King Charles III or any other world leaders? Please tell us in the comments.