A Time for Pomp & Circumstance
Every year at graduation time, Sir Edward Elgar’s famous march called “Pomp and Circumstance” is heard at ceremonies all across the county. Composed in 1901 by this English composer from the Romantic Period, it is the first of six marches that Elgar entitled The Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches, Op. 39. Interestingly, he took his title 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!
Even though this verse mentions war, there was no war at all going on at the time of Elgar’s composing of the marches. Apparently, Elgar was captivated only by the “pomp and circumstance” part.
This first march was premiered by his friend, Conductor Alfred E. Rodewald, and the Liverpool Orchestral Society in Liverpool on October 19, 1901. Two days later, it was performed again at a London Promenade concert and this time the audience rose to its feet and yelled! It was the only time in the history of the Promenade concerts that an orchestral work received a double encore!
It is only the trio section of the composition that is played for ceremonies and has become known as “The Graduation March.” It contains the famous melody that is actually a tune called “Land of Hope and Glory.”
It is ironic that Elgar’s music is a staple for graduation ceremonies everywhere and yet he never attended a conservatory; he had a natural talent for composing and was largely self-taught.
If you have never heard “Pomp and Circumstance Military March No. 1 in D” in its entirety, it is quite impressive – very uplifting and celebratory. Listen for yourself.