Last Night of the Proms
William Walton (1902-1983): Crown Imperial; Orb and Sceptre
Sir William Walton was certainly the finest Master of the King's/Queens's Musick that never was. He frequently produced ceremonial pieces with just the right combination of fanfare, colour and a real "English" tune. His ability to many music of genuine spirit and originality with a current of popular and national feeling was unique in his generation. The two most famous products of this skill were the coronation marches: Crown Imperial, commissioned by the BBC for the coronation of Edward VIII and performed at that of George VI in 1937 and Orb and Sceptre, written for the coronation of the Queen in 1953 and dedicated to Her Majesty. Walton unashamedly borrows the design of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches, with the central section reserved for a stilling tune. He found the inspiration for the titles for his marches in a passage from Henry V, that con Id provide titles for a whole string of ceremonial marches, jokingly remarking that he was saving "Bed Majestical" for the coronation of Prince Charles:
I am a King that find thee, and I know
'Tis nat the bahm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farc�d title running �fore the King
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That heats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Nat all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave.
(Shakespeare: Henry V)
Hubert Parry (1848-1918): Jerusalem
Sir Hubert Parry's setting of Blake's visionary poem Jerusalem was created at the suggestion of the Poet Laureate Robert Bridges in 1916. It was written for a meeting of the "Fight for Right" campaign and later appropriated by the movement for women's suffrage which won it much fame for its heartfelt expression of hope. Ever since it was introduced into the Last Night of the Proms by Sir Malcolm Sargent it has been a firm patriotic favourite.
Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Enigma Variations: Nimrod
Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations was his first great success, winning the support of Hans Richter and receiving many performances in England and across Europe. The core of the work is its marvellous expressive theme, ripe for development yet satisfying in itself. The work is a series of portraits of Elgar's friends and colleagues. Nimrod was August Johannes Jaeger, Elgar's publisher working at Novello's, who inspired and encouraged the composer to create his finest work. Elgar's clever nicknames are at work here. Jaeger is the German for hunter and Nimrod was a great Biblical hunter. The emotional strength and nobility of this tribute has won it a place close to the heart of the English musical nation.
Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944): Fantasia on British Sea Songs
In 1905 Sir Henry Wood, the founder of the promenade concerts, arranged a gala concert to celebrate the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. In a programme of sea-faring music he included his own Fantasia on British Sea Songs which was hastily put together in the three weeks before the concert. By including it in the final night of the next season's promenade concerts he established a tradition, the spectacular orchestration of Rule Britannia always bringing the house down Mindful and respectful of his musicians, Wood provided several of his most distinguished players with important solos. The piece begins with authentic bugle-calls and then follow: The Saucy Arethusa (euphonium), Tom Bowling (cello), Jack's the Lad (violin); a spirited hornpipe which always leaves the Last Night audience trailing in its wake, Farewell ye Spanish Ladies (a sonorous trombone quartet), a wonderfully enjoyable but irrelevant clarinet cadenza, Home Sweet Home (oboe), See the Conquering Hero (horn, as in the original Handel) and finally Rule Britannia as a triumphant conclusion.
Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921): Overture "Tam O'Shanter"
Sir Malcolm Arnold is now justly famous for a huge range of expertly crafted and expressive music that has always been distinguished by his wonderful ear for instrumental sonority and an intimate inside knowledge of the orchestra. The overture Tam O'Shanter (1955) after the narrative poem by Robert Burns is a virtuosic display of the composer's skill, telling the story of Tam's late night journey, his encounter with a coven of witches and his lucky escape. The drunken Tam is portrayed at the opening by a comically inebriated pair of bassoons and as his journey progresses through the stormy night the music gets wilder and wilder. The climax of the work is the vivid picture of the devil himself, the whole orchestra sounding like huge devilish bagpipes:
There sat Auld Nick, in shape o' beast;
A tousie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw'd the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl.
(Robert Burns (1759-1796): Tam O'Shanter)
Hubert Parry: I was glad when they said unto me
Parry's anthem I was glad when they said unto me was written as the processional anthem for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. It has been repeated at every coronation since then. When performed as a ceremonial work it includes music for the Westminster Abbey Boys Choir and the long military trumpets that grace royal occasions. The text is from Psalm 122, verses 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7, and taken literally would seem to have a great deal of relevance for this day and age. The mood is urgent and ceremonial until a change of key and the use of a semi-chorus for O pray for the peace before a return to the opening style for a splendid ending.
Edward Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1
Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 was first heard in Liverpool in 1901. At the first London performance, Sir Henry Wood had to play it three times "merely to restore order" as he put it in his autobiography. This was without the association with A.C. Benson's words Land of Hope and Glory. These were added to the tune in Elgar's Coronation Ode of 1902. The work is so popular, of course, because of the great tune that comes twice, serving as a trio section for the vigorous march.
Leeds Festival Chorus
Chorus Master Simon Wright
Leeds Festival Chorus was founded in 1858 to sing at the first Leeds Music Festival. The festival owed much of its international reputation to the quality of the chorus and the new works commissioned from composers such as Dvoř�k, Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams. Many distinguished conductors have worked with the chorus, including Sullivan, Beecham, Giulini, Horenstein, Karl Richter, Pierre Boulez, Charles Mackerras, Colin Davis, John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington and Mark Elder, but it was Malcolm Sargent who conducted the premi�re of what is perhaps the Festival's most famous commission, Walton's Belshazzar's Feast. The chorus now numbers about 160 singers and continues to sing in Leeds Town Hall with a variety of conductors. It also makes frequent visits to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and broadcasts and records frequently. Its chorus master Simon Wright is one of the country's most distinguished choral trainers and among its regular conductors.