The Ritual Role of Music in the British Culture Wars Sept 27, 2020 22:22:46 GMT
Post by emperorsuperbus on Sept 27, 2020 22:22:46 GMT
For me, the Last Night of the Proms smacks of piling into church on Christmas Eve for Midnight Mass. Do you know what I mean? Attending Church for wrong reasons, not the right ones. Going in for the smell of old ceremony, no intention of true appreciation or understanding.
Between 1901 and 1934 Edward Elgar composed five marches and sketched a sixth, the title he took from Act III, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's Othello:
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
For the first is set a motto for the whole set of marches, set to a verse from Lord de Tabley's poem "The March of Glory" on assumption the splendid show of military pageantry—"Pomp"—has no connection with the drabness and terror to come —"Circumstance"
Like a proud music that draws men on to die
Madly upon the spears in martial ecstasy,
A measure that sets heaven in all their veins
And iron in their hands.
I hear the Nation march
Beneath her ensign as an eagle's wing;
O'er shield and sheeted targe
The banners of my faith most gaily swing;
Moving to victory with solemn noise,
With worship and with conquest, and the voice of myriads.
As a tune, March number one quickly became very popular, on its Proms debut the audience demanded two encores. There was no singing involved at this stage, just pure appreciation of the music Elgar composed.
Elgar was asked by the King to rework this popular piece into a Coronation Ode, of which the chorus only (and not supplied by Elgar) is now used for Last Night pageantry. It is well known later in life Elgar was uncomfortable with this work morphing into something else, not because of his working class roots or Catholic upbringing during an era it was easier to have influence if you were hindered by neither, Ed was more than capable of looking after himself in that regard, it was more a case of losing control of his artistic soul, seeing his work man handled by those without understanding or good taste. When art even in our modern world goes viral for all the wrong reasons, the artist becomes associated with and known for something not of their original intention. Like that notorious Roman film you remember watching on crinkly VHS tapes back in the 80s, so far removed from the original script the writer didn’t even want his name on the credits.
But what of appreciation and understanding of an artists work, if it is only the pomp cut from the relating circumstance?
Don’t just accept my spin or opinion, lets listen to Elgar in his own words, in a lecture at Birmingham University
“The commonplace mind can never be anything but commonplace, and no amount of education, no polish of a university, can eradicate the stain from the low type of mind which is the English commonplace,” he declared to a shocked room. “An Englishman will take you into a large room, beautifully proportioned, and will point out to you that it is white – all over white – and somebody will say, ‘What exquisite taste.’ You know in your own mind, in your own soul, that is not taste at all – that it is the want of taste, that it is mere evasion. English music is white, and evades everything.”
How often do we hear Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 performed in its initial full colour glory, that once so wowed audiences? How well do we know it for what it actually is? At a time of covid, when we are telling choirs around the world to stop spitting over each other, what a fabulous opportunity to hear and appreciate the artists true original composition? the March as he would want you to hear it, free from plagiarism and desecration by others. In fact, what better opportunity to hear and explore our true cultural heritage, bequeathed to us by our most talented composer? So How was this plan killed off in the name of defending British Heritage?
This isn’t an argument against pageantry. There is certainly a place for pageantry, like for example inside American graduation ceremony’s, where strangely enough you will hear Pomp and Circumstance.
If ownership was based on usage, this piece is American now not British. And this is what Sir Edward Elgar is remembered for? Just this lyrical version, lifted from the Coronation Ode that itself isn’t what the composer originally created – in other words just the Pomp, not balanced with the Circumstance, what better example of mere pageantry? and what perfect reminder this is something far removed from the first of six Pomp and Circumstance marches composed by Elgar to showcase his own artistic endeavour and virtuosity.
So let us ask ourselves, is midnight mass supposed to be a piece of amusement once a year or so, after a few beers, or understanding and appreciation of something far greater? Is proms season supposed to be appreciation and understanding of music, or just excuse for one dumbed down party after another, this trajectory it is on, till all that is left is just pageantry no different from an American Graduation? To maintain our suspicion of the material and connect to the spiritual we do need to ask these questions. Otherwise we tear up our true history and lose it, and only recognise our cultural heritage through vandalised politicised adaptations.
In the meantime, tough luck Edward, maybe one day people will listen and understand.