The music of Sir Edward Elgar prompts another ‘e’ word – emotion.  Lots of other words too of course – pride, passion, Britishness.  But let’s stick with emotion for the minute.

He was a major English composer at the end of the Nineteenth and beginning of the Twentieth Centuries.  Perhaps one of his most well known works these days is his Pomp and Circumstance Marches so let’s start there.  As this Wiki entry explains, the title of the works come from Shakespeare’s Othello.  The entry gives information about each of the five marches if you would like it.  The first March in D Major is the most famous, being the one traditionally played at the concert to mark the last night of the annual BBC Proms season at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

I have had the priviledge to be both in the audience for such a concert, and on the stage performing (I was once a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus).  In each case, to be part of the rousing throng, with many hundreds of other people joining together to sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, written by A C Benson in 1902 to fit the Trio theme of the March, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience.  It is impossible to listen to this music without one’s emotions being stirred.

This year’s Last Night will be with us shortly – on 8 September in fact.  You can read more about the programme and how to listen to it and/or watch it on Radio, TV or online here.  Remember to have a flag – any flag – with you to wave!

Another of Elgar’s very famous works is his Enigma Variations.  Strictly speaking, I should refer to these by their proper title – Variations on an Original Theme for orchestra (“Enigma”) but they are so well known, that they have become synonymous with their shorthand name.  Elgar dedicated this work to ‘my friends pictured within’ – each of the fourteen variations on the main theme was an affectionate tribute to one of his close circle of acquaintances.

Variation IX, Nimrod, has become popular in its own right, used regularly as it is on solemn British occasions – none more so than on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in London.  Again, what could be more emotional?

And one need only listen to the very first note of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor and the hairs are up on the back of one’s neck.  Notes 2-15 are pretty breath-taking too, I can assure you – and by then, you’ll be hooked.

As as for the Violin Concerto in B Minor, well it’s so fascinating – when it starts it’s as if one is opening a door onto an ongoing adventure – a bit like the start of a James Bond movie, where our hero is already in full flight?  In my mind, we are plunged deep in the English countryside, suddenly following a 1930s good-sort chap who has got caught up some kind of spy thing, a la The 39 Steps…  Have a listen and see what you think…

So in general, if any of this has whetted your Elgar appetite, try also things like his Sea Pictures, the Cockaigne Overture, and In the South Overture.

These and all the other works mentioned above can be summed up with some final  ‘e’ words: exuberant, evocative and enduring.


6 thoughts on “For ‘E’s a jolly good fellow…

  1. My parents have a photo of my grandfather playing pool with Elgar :)). Mike is a big fan of his music and I also like it. Nimrod was used in the Opening was right at the end of the Green & Pleasant Land segment, with a snippet of the Shipping Forecast woven into it. At that point we were waiting to mass on to the field of play, all packed into the vom, and it is indelibly associated in my mind with us all peering round the curtain to glimpse what was going on,theBrunel characters trotting on,and the woman saying on our in-ear monitor “maypole children, stop, maypole children, notice the men in the black hats.”

    1. Hi LIz, what an amazing photo that must be – a wonderful family treasure. I would love to see it sometime? Isn’t it great how very familiar music can sometimes unexpectedly acquire new associations like the one you describe – not something which you would ever have imagined a few months ago, I’m sure, but one which will always stay with you as you say. LT x

      1. if you are ever down in London, let me know, and with a bit of notice I migth be able to liberate it temporarily from its home : )

  2. The hidden melody to Elgar’s Enigma Variations has been discovered. It is ‘Ein feste Burg’ (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. This discovery is authenticated by an ingenious music cipher embedded in the opening measures of the Enigma Theme. The cipher is Elgar’s cryptic ‘dark saying’ first mentioned in the 1899 program note. The secret friend and inspiration behind Variation XIII (***) is Jesus, the Lord and Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith. His initials are openly concealed by the Roman numerals for that movement. X represents the tenth letter of the alphabet (J) and III the third (C). To learn more about these astonishing discoveries, visit

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