Although he had not yet broken through to an international audience with the Enigma Variations and the Pomp and Circumstance marches, Elgar was already making a name for himself in England when he asked for a musical contribution to the upcoming Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. In 1897, he responded with this Imperial March for orchestra.
Although the work is generally conventional in utterance, Elgar here put something of his own fingerprint on the traditional British ceremonial march. After a restrained, deliberately paced first theme, the striking second theme offers a radical departure. Highly percussive and rhythmic, it borders on what Victorian standards would have deemed excessive and even barbaric. Perhaps the composer intended to evoke the Janissary music of the previous century. The exoticism was appropriate to the work's imperial theme, for the British Empire now extended to even more exotic lands than had the Austrian of Mozart's day. This unusual music, however, is abutted by a more restrained trio in Elgar's engaging childlike mode. With the reprise of the opening, the bold second theme is worked into the coda. Elgar introduced just the right amount of daring in the march, still staying within the bounds of dignity; the work met with acclaim and paved the way to future knighthood for its composer.