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20. Elgar – Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D

January 21, 2012

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is certainly not a one-hit wonder, but on a popular level, he’s pretty much known entirely for one piece, which most know as the “Graduation March.”

It seems like the composers of different parts of Europe had strengths in different areas of classical music. The Germans produced many great symphonies. The Italians have a big claim on opera. The Slavic nations of eastern Europe take the dances. But the British seemed to love marches like nobody else – no other country’s composers wrote marches that had the grandeur, power, and spirit like theirs did.

Having said that, Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1, in my opinion, is the piece of classical music that suffers the most of having its soul sucked out of it when re-framed for its typical modern/popular usage. Used as a graduation march, the music is flat, ceremonial, quiet, unintrusive, and ultimately, just a background music.

However, in it’s original form, the music is dynamic, soaring, joyous, extroverted, even flamboyant, and of gigantic scale and force. Here it is:

Elgar – Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D

In the UK, the “Graduation March” portion is sung with lyrics, and the piece is also commonly known as “Land of Hope and Glory.”

“A” section

0:00 The very opening has a somewhat unstable feeling about it, but clearly sets a tone of high energy. Listen to all the activity in the brass and percussion. This is a march, of course, and those sections will play a big part in driving this piece.

0:08 The harmonies settle down, busy melody in the strings. Primary theme of the A section, followed by some developmental stuff.

0:47 Primary theme again, following a big chromatic scale in the woodwinds.

0:55 British people bouncing.

1:23 And primary theme one more time, but leading into something new.

1:38 Intro again, but this time it concludes itself cleanly and then quiets down quickly.

“B” section

1:53 Here is the part that everybody knows. Seems like it’s a British tradition to hum along the first time around. This is the quieter and solemn part which has basically been clipped out and looped as the “Graduation March.”

2:49 The same exact thing, but fuller. And the audience sings along with “Land of Hope and Glory.”

3:11 Listen to the stretch in the tempo at the close of this half section – a good conductor will hold it back a bit here, and let this “tidal wave” of sound build up before the big splash, using snare drum and timpani for the build.

3:30Another tempo stretch and “tidal wave.”

“A” section #2

3:48 “B” section closes, and we launches back into a second “A” section. Almost exactly the same as the first time around, but a bit abbreviated.

“B” section #2

4:47 Big exposed chromatic scale cranks up the tension, before we launch back into a huge “B” section again, but this time in a higher key. Now, percussion instruments in full force, and there’s also a pipe organ blasting in all ranges to add to the sheer volume. This is pure romantic era and patriotic excess.

5:15 Tidal wave. They’re bigger this time around, now including a thundering bass drum roll.

5:35 The most drastic tempo stretch of the piece is this one. Right at the big juicy high note here for the audience to sing. It must be awesome to be among this.

5:48 Elaborate and stretched out closing to the “B” section.

Closing section

5:56 Brief closing section, using material from the primary “A” theme.

6:08 And the crowd goes wild. So the official national anthem of the UK is “God save the Queen” (from which Americans used the same melody for their “My Country Tis of Thee”). But this is one of those patriotic songs of a country that is just way better than the official national anthem. It almost makes me want to be British.

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