Edward Elgar

Cockaigne Overture ("In London Town"), concert overture for orchestra & organ, Op. 40

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Edward Elgar's second extant orchestral overture, the Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40, originated in 1901, just a year or two after the completion of the famous Enigma Variations. Cockaigne was a medieval notion, a fictitious land of flowing wine and easy living that Elgar used as a backdrop for a light-hearted musical description of vivacious, turn-of-the-century London, as seen and heard through the eyes and ears of a young couple. Elgar seems to have planned a follow-up to Cockaigne in which he would explore the city's darker aspects ("City of Dreadful Night" was to be the subtitle), but nothing ever came of the idea.

    The Cockaigne Overture, subtitled "In London Town," is a relatively brief piece of music -- about 350 bars all told -- cast in a traditional sonata-allegro form. A scherzando opening offers bits and pieces of themes that will presently take on more definite shapes and roles; the main "London" theme in C major, broad and sure, is given by the violins after a compelling introductory passage. A typically broad-spanned melody in E flat reflects on the couple's love for each other: the tender but passionate striving of the melody's initial octave leap could not be more typically "Elgarian." The "London" theme is given a treatment in diminution (a saucy rendition supposedly meant to represent the impudent disdain of the London youths for their stodgy elders), roving about harmonically, before the coda reviews our main themes and dissolves into the development section.

    After a timid beginning in B flat major, the development soon bursts forth into a full-scale brass-band parade that, through sheer force, compels the entire orchestra to join in. Elgar's musical portrayal of the band as it grows distant again is striking: not wishing to resort to such bluntly obvious tactics as placing instruments offstage or in the balconies, the composer instead uses harmonic discrepancy (initially a sustained F pedal in the nearby orchestra against the band theme in G flat major in the increasingly distant clarinets) to create the illusion of separation and even distance.

    In the wake of all this tumult our young couple wanders into a church. Here Elgar's theme is of the most moving and eloquent kind, and yet the brash youngsters outside can still find it in themselves to ridicule its incessant, dogmatic nature (cheekily and effectively represented by an overuse of melodic sequence). A complex contrapuntal structure is built up from all these various melodic fragments until, by sheer accretion, a recapitulation is forced upon the scene. Although this final portion of the overture remains thoroughly in the C major tonality that underlies the entire work, Elgar does make an effective harmonic digression to E flat major for the reprise of the pompous, "nobilmente" London theme.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 ABC Classics
    2017 Decca / London
    2016 Somm SOMMCD 2614
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646076000
    2015 Onyx ONYX 4145
    2014 BIS BIS 1939
    2013 K-Tel 82464
    2012 Classic FM
    2012 RPO RPOSP 035
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962307
    2012 K-Tel 56873
    2012 Warner Music
    2012 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186471
    2011 Music & Arts CD 1257
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990722
    2011 Hallé CDHLD 7532
    2011 Regis Records RRC 5010
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099996593
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca
    2010 First Hand Records 6
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 Src Records SRC 105
    2008 Naxos 8 572098/9
    2008 EMI Classics 562886
    2007 Apex
    2007 LPO 16
    2007 Rhino
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950360
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 Warner Classics 2564-69924-6
    2006 Prism Leisure 1263
    2006 Apex 927413712
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 67918
    2006 Gothic Records 49248
    2006 BBC Legends 41822
    2006 Naxos 8 552133/4
    2005 Warner Classics / Warner Music 62199
    2005 Andante 4100
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 66543
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 62887
    2004 Nimbus Records 5206
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 85512
    2004 Rca Red Seal 60389
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Seraphim UK
    2003 Hallé 7501
    2003 Erato
    2003 Warner Classics
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 75941
    2003 Sony Classical 89405
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 75790
    2002 Decca 473 249-2
    2002 Chandos 6652
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 66399
    2001 Sony Classical 63247
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 66323
    2001 Dorian 90308
    2001 St. Clair 7371
    2001 CBC Records 5176
    1999 Pearl 9951
    1999 Chandos 8309
    1999 Argo 430835
    1999 Claves 509813
    1997 Naxos 556672
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63247
    1996 Philips
    1995 Seraphim UK 69022
    1995 Virgin Classics 7243561199
    1995 London 443856
    1995 Philips 442152
    1995 ASV 6162
    1994 Nimbus 7015
    1994 ASV 6082
    1994 Sony Classical 53510
    1994 Naxos 550489
    1994 ASV 6123
    1994 Erato 94809
    1993 EMI Music Distribution 64511
    1992 Teldec 73279
    1992 Nimbus 5210/13
    1991 EMI Classics 764014
    1990 Decca / London 417719
    1989 Telarc Distribution 80192
    ABC Classics 4766955
    ABC Classics 4766813
    New York Philharmonic NYP2003
    Telegraph
    RCA 60073
    EMI Music Distribution 4617
    Virgin Classics 59626
    Decca 440317
    EMI Music Distribution 747205
    Duet 07
    EMI Angel / EMI Music Distribution 69231
    Chandos 8429
    Chandos 6570
    EMI Music Distribution 65615
    Beulah 2PD15