Why is 'Land of Hope and Glory' at the BBC Proms?
We take a look at how Edward Elgar's famous work, Land of Hope and Glory, became so central to the Last Night celebrations
Now considered one of the essential sing-along ingredients of the second half of the Last Night of the Proms, with its audience of millions of viewers, Land of Hope and Glory is almost as old as the Proms itself. We take a look at how the Land of Hope and Glory became a Last Night fixture and became lodged in the national consciousness...
The tune that inspired Land of Hope and Glory began life in the Trio section of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 which received its successful premiere in Liverpool, on 19 October 1901, with the composer conducting.
Just four days later, Land of Hope and Glory had a triumphant reception at London’s Queen’s Hall (the original home of the Proms before the Albert Hall), resulting in demands for a double encore by conductor Sir Henry Wood.
‘The people simply rose and yelled. I had to play it again – with the same result,’ he recalled. ‘It was the one and only time in the history of the Promenade concerts that an orchestral item accorded a double encore.’
• Read more: The History of the Last Night of the Proms
By 1902 the tune had words, thanks to the text of Elgar’s Coronation Ode, which was written for King Edward VII and included the Trio’s tune in its climax. The writer AC Benson provided the words, including the text of Land of Hope and Glory and it was also published as a song in its own right and performed by contralto Clara Butt. Elgar conducted his Ode at the Queen’s Hall in October that year and its success led to further concert bookings and importantly, an inclusion in that year’s Proms.
In subsequent years Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 became a regular fixture in the Last Night with the audience joining in for the words of the tune to Land of Hope and Glory.
By the time the BBC took over the Proms, in 1927, The Times reported: ‘At the end of the evening Sir Henry Wood received a tremendous ovation… and the audience showed that they could do some very good community singing in his honour and without the guidance of his beat.’
Understandably, the Land of Hope and Glory also received a spirited response in the 1945 Proms as part of the victory celebrations after World War II. When Malcolm Sargent (above) took over as Last Night conductor in 1947 he revelled in the Last Night spectacle and he continued with this into the TV era in the 1950s, with balloons, flags and placards becoming commonplace. There were unsuccessful efforts to tone the Last Night down, resulting in an uproar in 1969 when controller William Glock tried to remove Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 from the Last Night. Due to a public outcry it was reinstated at the last minute. Since then it’s only been removed once, in 2001, just after the terror attacks in New York when US conductor Leonard Slatkin’s Last Night was re-programmed to include Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
The tune’s popularity has extended far beyond the Proms with appearances at England rugby matches and with fans of various football clubs using the tune with the words altered. Although Britain has a national anthem, God Save the Queen, England does not. In 2006 a BBC survey found 55 per cent would like Land of Hope and Glory as England’s own national anthem.
Neil McKim is the former Production Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He is now the production editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.