Pomp and Circumstance Marches

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The "Pomp and Circumstance Marches" (full title "Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches"), Op. 39 are a series of marches for orchestra composed by Sir Edward Elgar.

About the music commonly known as "Pomp and Circumstance" in the United States, see March No. 1 below.


The title

The title is taken from Act III, Scene iii 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!"[1]

But also, on the score of the first march, Elgar set as a motto for the whole set of marches a verse from Lord de Tabley's poem The March of Glory[2] which begins

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.

proclaiming the "shows of things": the naïve assumption that the splendid show of military pageantry –"Pomp"– has no connection with the drabness and terror —"Circumstance"— of actual warfare. The first four marches were all written before the events of World War I shattered that belief, and the styles wars were written about spurned the false romance of the battle-song. Elgar understood this.

The marches

The Pomp and Circumstance marches are

  • March No. 1 in D (1901)
  • March No. 2 in A minor (1901)
  • March No. 3 in C minor (1904)
  • March No. 4 in G (1907)
  • March No. 5 in C (1930)
  • March No. 6 in G minor (written as sketches, elaborated by Anthony Payne in 2005–06)

The first five were all published by Boosey & Co. as Elgar's Op. 39, and each of the marches is dedicated to a particular musical friend of Elgar's.

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