Some people have considered Elgarís marches to be a manifestation of jingoism, but his
own attitude was unequivocal: ĎI know that there are a lot of people who like to celebrate
events with music. To those people I have given tunes. Is that wrong?í
The first work in this genre was the Imperial March
(Opus 32) written to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. It was
commissioned by the publishers, Novellos, and proved an instant success. Then came the first
two Pomp and Circumstance marches, which premiered together. (Opus number 39 applies to
all five marches.) The second, in A minor, dedicated to the composer Granville Bantock, was
very different from the first. No.3 in C minor, completed in 1904 and dedicated to Elgarís
great friend, Ivor Atkins, is more introspective than either. It begins with a persistent
rhythm while its A flat trio is lightly scored.
With the exception of No.1, it is probably No.4, in G major, that is the most popular of all
Elgarís marches. Written in 1907, it was dedicated to the George Robertson Sinclair, organist
at Hereford Cathedral. Its majestic trio tune was the only other one to have words added.
Elgarís wife, Alice wrote The Kingsway in 1909 to celebrate the opening of a London
street, but better known are the words by the writer A.P. Herbert, All men shall be
free, often used during the Second World War.
Elgarís next two marches were the Coronation March
(Opus 65) of 1911, written to celebrate the coronation of King George V, and the
Empire March of 1924 for the Empire Exhibition at
Wembley. The former displays a kind of brooding anger and, although played at the coronation,
never achieved the success of some of the earlier works. The latter has some of the finest
scoring that even Elgar, a master of orchestration, achieved.
The final Pomp and Circumstance March to be completed, No.5 in C major, was
written in 1930 at the instigation of Sinclairís successor at Hereford, Percy Hull, to
whom it was dedicated. Many consider its trio tune the greatest and subtlest of them all,
although it never achieved the popularity of Nos.1 and 4. A sixth Pomp and Circumstance
March exists in fragmentary form.