Musical genius Elgar hated the nationalistic Land of Hope and Glory

Elgar’s famous composition was instantly dismissed by some as ‘cheap’ and ‘unworthy’. But it was a huge success at the Proms, where crowds rose and yelled and demanded it be played three times. Andy Martin on the man behind the music

Friday 13 September 2019 16:10
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He embodied the English style, but regretted his biggest hit
He embodied the English style, but regretted his biggest hit

Even Elgar got sick of it. Despite which, masses of us will be singing along on the last night of the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall, with backing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, to the Pomp and Circumstance March no 1 in D Major, “Land of Hope and Glory”. There will also be a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia!” But “Land of Hope and Glory” is still one of the most patriotic songs imaginable, an alternate national anthem.

Elgar wanted to bin it. I agree with him.

It started life in 1901 as a march without words, first performed in Liverpool. It then morphed into the “Coronation Ode”, for the coronation of Edward VII, the following year. Elgar, then styling himself “Dr Elgar” after receiving an honorary doctorate from Cambridge, soon to be Sir Edward, was in the frame for a knighthood and the ode wouldn’t do him any harm. AC Benson (who taught at Eton and would become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge) wrote the lyrics to go with it. His original version started like this:

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