Just a little more on Elgar and his ‘patriotic’ music, if you’ll allow me…
I mentioned the other day the ‘lousy words’ that were added to the marvellous Trio tune from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (1901) — turning the tune into ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, and turning my stomach at the same time. The words most usually heard sung to that tune — in case you’ve been lucky enough never to hear (or understand) them, are these:
Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.
It’s probably worth stressing that these words — objectionable in their imperialism and their clunkiness alike (those two ‘thee’s in the second line!) — aren’t Elgar’s, any more than was the idea of adding such stuff to his tune: the notion seems to have arisen in the mind of the new king, Edward VII — who offered Elgar the ‘royal hint’ that the melody would make a great song.
What that hint resulted in, we’ll see in a few minutes. What I want to do first is share a really wonderful film clip of Elgar himself at the age of 74 conducting this very tune — sans words! — at the opening of the Abbey Road Studios, London, on 12 November 1931. As for the words that actually are Elgar’s own, here is what he says to the orchestra before they start (yes, we hear Elgar’s voice!):
“Good morning gentlemen. Glad to see you all. Very light programme this morning! Please play this tune as though you’ve never heard it before.”
As for the King’s suggestion, it actually had two musical outcomes — both of them in 1902, and both of them featuring lyrics written by one Arthur C. Benson.
First, Elgar used the tune in the final section of his 1902 Coronation Ode for Edward VII and Queen Alexandra:
Secondly, the publishers Boosey & Hawkes were savvy enough to ask Elgar for a song that incorporated the tune. He obliged…
…and with the help of Clara Butt (1872–1936), it became a success every bit as huge as you would expect it to have been:
After all of which verbal (not musical) delusionality, amnesia and elite-serving humbuggery, a little piece of photo-documentation would seem to be called for…
It’s probably worth pointing out that the one thing Elgar didn’t produce in 1902 was the horror we see exhibited year after year in the festival of flag-waving imbecility that is the second half of the ‘Last Night of the Proms’: the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 played by an orchestra — with the audience joining in to hum along and sing the words of the song’s chorus once the Trio starts. (There are videos of it on YouTube: if you really want to see one of them, I can’t stop you.)
For the rest, two little points — of which readers can make whatever they will…
First, anyone who wants to think that something inherently and definingly ‘English’ (or ‘British’) — or something essentially and excludingly ‘patriotic’ — exists within Elgar’s big tune should be reminded that nothing seems to prevent creditably sympathetic performances coming from, say, a German orchestra under the baton of an Argentinian-born conductor of Jewish parentage who has come to hold Argentinian, Israeli, Palestinian and Spanish citizenship. Yes, the following recording is performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under Daniel Barenboim…
Secondly, there is (as there was probably bound to be) the little matter of the First World War — and the opportunities it provided for practically every society on the planet to regress to a level of nationalistic group-identification that would have furnished a lesson in primitiveness to a termite colony. What was on Elgar’s mind as the war’s first month drew to an end? Was he obsessing about the need to unite around the flag, to mobilise, to manufacture weapons, to kill Germans, to spread the Empire’s bounds ‘wider still and wider’…?
No, he wasn’t…
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