Edward Elgar

Pomp and Circumstance, marches (5) for orchestra, Op. 39

    Description by Rovi Staff

    Like so many of his countrymen during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British composer Edward Elgar was ardently patriotic. Combined with his natural militaristic turn (he had, after all, married the daughter of an army general) and love of ceremony, this patriotism made Elgar perfectly suited to author a long and distinguished line of Marches; ultimately, these would take a place not only in the traditional occasional music of his own country, but also in that of Britain's sister-nations across the Atlantic. The five Pomp and Circumstance marches, published collectively as Opus 39 but actually composed over a period of almost thirty years, are without a doubt the best known of his pieces in this peculiarly British genre. Though their collective title, drawn from a line in Shakespeare's Othello describing "the pomp and circumstance of glorious war," clearly allies them with the British military tradition, the musicality and variety (and even charm) of these five pieces render them enjoyable sans any nationalist association.

    The first in the set, in D major (1901), earned Elgar his knighthood; it was later adapted into the Coronation Ode and given the well-known lyrics "Land of Hope and Glory." The famous trio section is as recognizable as the Union Jack, now virtually ubiquitous at high school and university graduation ceremonies. If one can put aside its over-familiarity, this is a very beautiful theme; as the composer himself described it in very unceremonious language, "I've got a tune in my head that's going to knock 'em dead!"

    The A minor march that follows was composed almost simultaneously with the preceding one; it has never achieved anything like the fame of its sister-piece, and yet it is in many ways a better work. The trio in particular could hardly be a more striking contrast to the G major melody of the first march.

    Elgar must have been in a particularly dramatic mood when he penned the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 3 in C minor (completed in 1904). This is no militaristic exercise, but rather a dramatic orchestral poem. Three bassoons offer vague hints of a melody during the subdued opening, but the quietude is not sustained for long, as a massive brass-laden crescendo paves the way for a broad main tune. The light theme and staccato accompaniment of the A flat major trio offer a well-earned reprieve from the physicality of the march-proper.

    March No. 4 in G major, composed in 1907 recalls something of the general enthusiasm of the famous first March. The main march idea is built on a single rhythmic cell, while the C major trio is marked "nobilmente."

    Almost 25 years would pass before the composer completed the fifth Pomp and Circumstance March, but upon hearing the result it quickly becomes apparent that Elgar saved the best for last. The main melodic idea is all youth and exuberance (especially considering that its composer was well over seventy at the time), and Elgar provides the trio section with a broad melody that is at least the equal of the G major tune in the first March.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 1, in D major, "Land of Hope and Glory"
    2. No. 2, in A minor
    3. No. 3, in C minor
    4. No. 4, in G major
    5. No. 5, in C major
    6. No. 6 [fragment]

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2017
    Naxos
    8503293
    2016
    Heritage
    250
    2016
    Hallé
    CDHLL 7536
    2012
    Chandos
    CHAN 10709
    2011
    Exton
    EXCL 00030
    2011
    Regis Records
    RRC 5010
    2010
    Decca
    2009
    Haenssler
    98549
    2008
    Decca
    4674442
    2007
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099950360
    2006
    EMI Music Distribution
    67918
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    Naxos
    8557273
    2005
    Erato
    2005
    Creative Music Servic / Fieldstone Entertainment
    27
    2005
    Hip-O / Hip-O/Decca
    000415302
    2004
    EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution
    575305
    2003
    Erato
    2003
    Warner Classics
    2002
    EMI Music Distribution
    75790
    2002
    Decca
    473 249-2
    2001
    Sony Classical
    63247
    2001
    EMI Music Distribution
    66323
    2000
    Various Artists
    Nimbus
    NI7067/8
    2000
    EMI Music Distribution
    69601
    1999
    Various Artists
    Chandos
    CHAN241-4
    1998
    Virgin / Warner Classics
    7243561430
    1997
    Sony Music Distribution
    63247
    1996
    Belart/Karussell
    450143
    1996
    Philips
    454250
    1996
    Priory Records
    20521
    1995
    Seraphim UK
    69022
    1995
    Virgin Classics
    7243561199
    1993
    EMI Music Distribution
    9004
    1992
    Sony Music Distribution
    48265
    1992
    Chandos
    6504
    1991
    EMI Classics
    64015
    1990
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4297132
    1990
    Decca / London
    417719
    1987
    Philips
    416813
    CBS Records
    38483
    CBS Records
    44788
    Virgin Classics
    59626
    Decca
    440317
    Motette
    11501
    IMP Classics
    913
    Denon Records
    73534
    Chandos
    8429