Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance Marches: what they are, when he composed them and their place in history
A guide to Elgar's rousing set of marches, which have been at the centre of many grand and state events including several coronations
Synonymous with British pageantry, Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance Marches have been at the centre of many grand and state events including the coronations of George V, George VI and Elizabeth II. 'Land of Hope and Glory', a hymn adapted from March No. 1, is also likely to be performed at the Coronation of King Charles III on 6 May.
What are the Pomp and Circumstance Marches?
The Pomp and Circumstance Marches (full title Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches), Op. 39, are a series of five (or six) marches for orchestra composed by Elgar. The composer produced the first four in his forties, between the years 1901 and 1907. The fifth was published more than two decades after the first four, in 1930, just a few years before Elgar's death. A sixth Pomp and Circumstance March was compiled posthumously from sketches by Elgar.
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 is best known for its trio section, adapted into the popular anthem 'Land of Hope and Glory', which was first performed in its instrumental form in 1901, when it was encored twice. Today it is a firm and central fixture of Last Night of the Proms, when it is sung with gusto by the audience.
Here are the lyrics to Land of Hope and Glory
How many Pomp and Circumstance Marches are there?
Elgar composed five marches in total. Sadly he only made preparatory sketches for the sixth and final march. However, composer and Elgar scholar Anthony Payne made an inspired realisation of the sixth March, based on Elgar's notes. This new March got its world premiere at the 2006 Proms.
Why are they called Pomp and Circumstance?
Elgar named them Pomp and Circumstance after a phrase in Shakespeare's Othello:
'Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!'
We know that Elgar was a great admirer of Shakespeare and liked to sew the Bard's words and characters into his music. After all, he made Henry V's Falstaff into a superbly colourful orchestral piece.
When did Elgar compose his Pomp and Circumstances Marches?
Elgar composed the first of his five Pomp and Circumstances Marches in 1901. Little did he know that the central melody would soon rival 'God Save The King' in popularity.
After conducting the first promenade performance, Sir Henry Wood reported: "The people simply rose and yelled. I had to play it again - with the same result; they refused to let me go on with the programme... Merely to restore order, I played the march a third time. And that was the only time in history of the promenade concerts that an orchestral item was awarded a double encore."
Of the remaining four completed Pomp and Circumstance Marches - composed respectively in 1901, 1904, 1907 and 1930 - it was the Fourth that Elgar particularly intended as a serious rival to No.1. It is testimony to the composer's remarkable creative skills that he nearly succeeded in the attempt.
What is the best recording of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches?
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Norman Del Mar DG 429 7132
Pomp and Circumstance Marches: Three more great recordings
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Adrian Boult
Philharmonia / New Philharmonia / Sir John Barbirolli
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras