The Queen’s medals for music and poetry: and the winners are…

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The Queen has approved the award of Her Majesty’s Gold Medal for Poetry for the year 2020 to David Constantine, while the award of Her Majesty’s Medal for Music for the same year went to Thomas Trotter.

Her Majesty’s Gold Medal for Poetry

The Gold Medal for Poetry was established by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of the then Poet Laureate, John Masefield, and is awarded annually for excellence in poetry. Each year’s recipient is from the United Kingdom or a Commonwealth Realm.

David Constantine. Photo: Poets & Players

The Poetry Medal Committee recommended David Constantine as this year’s recipient on the basis of his eleven books of poetry, in particular his Collected Poems, published in 2004, which spans three decades of his work. The committee is chaired by the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, who received The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry for 2018.

David Constantine has made significant contributions both to the European poetic tradition and to contemporary poetry, and the inspiration for his work ranges from the everyday, nature and our relationship with the planet, to the mythical world of Ancient Greece.

While poetry is at the heart of David Constantine’s prolific career, he is also a scholar, a novelist, and an award-winning short-story writer and translator, whose translations of Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin and Bertolt Brecht have been hailed by critics in the UK and internationally.

On hearing of the award, David Constantine said: “These past few days I have been thinking of the many people, living and dead, who have accompanied me in the writing of my poems. It has made me all the more grateful for this generous award.”

The Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, said: “Above all, David Constantine is a ‘humane’ poet – a word often used in connection with his work, as if in noticing and detailing the ways of the world he is doing so on behalf of all that is best in us. For over forty years he has shaped a body of work that stands in comparison with that of any of his contemporaries, not just at home but internationally, navigating and negotiating that space between everyday events and their metaphysical or spiritual ‘otherness’.”

David Constantine was born in Salford in 1944 and read Modern Languages in Oxford, before lecturing in German at Durham and Oxford. During his career, he has published eleven books of poetry, including Belongings (2020) and Collected Poems (2004).

For many years he was a commissioning editor for Oxford Poets, and then co-editor of the journal Modern Poetry in Translation, and has judged several literary prizes, including the T.S. Eliot Prize. As well as a poet, David Constantine is a scholar, novelist, short story writer and translator. His body of work includes translations of poets and playwrights, such as Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin and Bertolt Brecht.

The front of the medal bears the crowned effigy of The Queen. The idea of the reverse, which was designed by the late Edmund Dulac, is ‘Truth is emerging from her well and holding in her right hand the divine flame of inspiration – Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty’. The latter part of this description is a quotation from John Keats’s poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

Her Majesty’s Medal for Music

Awarded every year to an outstanding individual or group of musicians, The Queen’s Medal for Music was first presented to Sir Charles Mackerras on November 22nd 2005, the feast day of St Cecilia, Patron Saint of music. The award came at the suggestion of former Master of The Queen’s Music, the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Previous winners include the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, jazz musician Gary Crosby and, most recently, pianist Imogen Cooper.

Mr. Trotter is one of the world’s most revered concert organists, and is the sixteenth recipient of the award. He has been the Birmingham City Organist since 1983, and is also a Visiting Fellow in Organ Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Mr. Trotter has toured on four continents, and is often invited to perform the commissioning recital on new or restored organs, including at the Royal Albert Hall and St. David’s Hall in Cardiff. He has partnered with world renowned conductors, including Sir Charles Mackerras, the Medal’s first recipient.

In recognition of his achievements, Mr. Trotter was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society’s esteemed Instrumentalist Award in 2011, and was named International Performer of the Year for 2012 by the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. In 2016, he received the Royal College of Organists Medal, the institute’s highest honour.

The nominating process for the award is overseen by a committee chaired by the Master of The Queen’s Music, Judith Weir. The committee meet annually to discuss their nominees before submitting their recommendation to The Queen for approval.

Commenting on the award, the Master of The Queen’s Music, Judith Weir, said: “This year’s medal salutes a world-famous organist who has done so much to widen and brighten the realm of this great instrument. Thomas Trotter’s series of regular recitals over four decades as Birmingham City Organist is an inspiring example of civic engagement for all performing musicians.”

On hearing of the award, Thomas Trotter said: “I am deeply honoured to be awarded The Queen’s Medal for Music for 2020. To have my work recognised in this way is totally unexpected and highly gratifying, and it is a privilege to join the list of distinguished recipients of this award.”

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