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God Save the King! The Trombone in Coronations throughout History

Updated on October 16, 2016

The trombone has long been associated with special occasions, including water processions, parades of various types, weddings, various religious celebrations, and coronations. Historically, trombones were for centuries employed by kings, queens, and other nobility at various European courts. The trombone also has a long history as a religious instrument; the earliest coronation below, the coronation of a pope, is an example of the use of the trombone in religious settings. The coronations span nearly the full history of the trombone, which began in the 15th century.

For additional context and full citation of references, see Trombone History Timeline.

c. 1503—Siena, Italy: Bernardino Pinturicchio includes a depiction of a trombonist in his painting, Coronation of Pius III, a fresco decorating the exterior of the Piccolomini Library in the cathedral of Siena. The trombonist is part of a trio of wind players seen performing at center-right (see detail and full image below; public domain) (Jenkens 159; Cecchi 19). Documents have shown that trombone did, indeed, perform at this particular coronation (see below).

Detail from Pinturicchio, Coronation of Pius III
Detail from Pinturicchio, Coronation of Pius III
Pinturicchio, Coronation of Pius III
Pinturicchio, Coronation of Pius III

1503—Rome, Italy: At the coronation of Pope Pius III, the Te Deum is sung antiphonally, with responses accompanied by “one cornett and three contorted trumpets, which are commonly called trombones” (“tibia una et tribus tubis contortis quos trombones vulgo appellant”) (Herbert, Trombone 101).

1509—London, England: 4 Sakbudds and shalmes (sackbuts and shawms) perform at the coronation of Henry VIII (Whitwell, Renaissance 15).

1515—France: At the coronation of King Francis, music is provided by a band of shawms and sackbuts (sacqueboutes) (Whitwell, Renaissance 66).

1533—London, England: At Anne Boleyn’s coronation celebration, an elaborate water procession on the river Thames, includes the Mayor’s barge, which carries “Shalmes, Shagbushes [sackbuts] & divers other instruments, whiche continually made goodly armony” (Stevens, Music & Poetry 240; Whitwell, Renaissance 24).

River Thames and London Bridge, 1616
River Thames and London Bridge, 1616

1559—London, England: Music at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth includes a consort of 6 Shackebuttes (sackbuts) (Bray 270).

1604—Mainz, Germany: A Te Deum is performed in celebration of a coronation. Alternating verses are played by the civic wind band of cornetts and trombones and a trumpet and timpani ensemble (Whitwell, Baroque 206).

1654—Paris, France: Records of the coronation of Louis XIV at the cathedral of Reims describe a procession that includes wind and percussion instruments: “The king was escorted to the cathedral…preceded by a dozen trumpeters, drummers, fife-players, oboists, flutists, bagpipers and trombonists, all dressed in white taffeta” (Bowles, Musical Ensembles 281). Jean Le Pautre’s engraving depicting the coronation, titled La Pompeuse et Magnifique Cérémonie du sacre de Louis XIV, shows a wind band of 12 players, at least one of whom is playing trombone (see detail below; public domain image) (Hindley 221).

Detail,  Jean Le Pautre, La Pompeuse et Magnifique Ceremonie du sacre de Louis XIV
Detail, Jean Le Pautre, La Pompeuse et Magnifique Ceremonie du sacre de Louis XIV

1661—London, England: Matthew Locke (c. 1621-1677) composes Music for his Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, probably for the coronation of Charles II. It is a collection of pieces for three trombones and two cornetts (Herbert, Sackbut 79; Collver 58) (below image from Kinsky 199; public domain).

1761—London, England: The Royal Magazine or Gentleman’s Monthly Companion prints “A Succinct Account of the Coronation of their most Excellent Majesties King George III and Queen Charlotte, on Tuesday the 22d of September 1761.” The detailed description of the procession leading from Westminster Hall to the Abbey includes 2 Sackbuts situated on either side of “A double Courtal” (Succinct Account 109-110).

Westminster Abbey, tradition British coronation site
Westminster Abbey, tradition British coronation site

1821—London, England: Multiple trombones, including alto trombone, perform as members of a wind band, sometimes known as the Prince's Regent's Band, at the coronation of George IV. The band plays at both Westminster Abbey and at the subsequent banquet (Carse, Prince Regent's Band).

Depiction of coronation of George IV, 1821
Depiction of coronation of George IV, 1821

1911—London, England: 3 trombones are included in the orchestra performing for the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in Westminster Abbey (Musical Times, 1 July 1911).


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