Today, we’re going to jump ahead a few weeks in what would normally be the final night of a very fun program from, as they say, across the pond.
First performed in 1895, the “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts”, or more commonly known as “The Proms”, was the brainchild of conductor Sir Henry Wood. Wood collaborated with English businessman and impresario Robert Newman to create an indoor version of the concerts that had taken place in London’s “pleasure gardens”, which were areas where the public could gather, enjoy music, amusement rides, zoos, and other forms of entertainment. The concerts in the gardens would allow the listener to stroll along or pack a picnic meal.
The first concerts were held in the Queen’s Hall and held around 2500 patrons and was the primary concert hall in London until 1941, when it was destroyed by bombs in World War II. The programs were so popular that they were sold out months in advance.
Newman’s original intent was to raise the standard of classical music in Britain: He “wished to generate a wider audience for concert hall music by offering low ticket prices and an informal atmosphere, where eating, drinking and smoking were permitted to the promenaders. He stated his aim to Henry Wood in 1894 as follows:
‘I am going to run nightly concerts and train the public by easy stages. Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.’ ” (Wikipedia)
A bronze bust of Sir Henry Wood recovered from the ruins of the bombed-out Queen’s Hall in 1941, and now belonging to the Royal Academy of Music, is still placed in front of the organ for the whole Promenade season, now held in Royal Albert Hall, with a capacity of over 5200.
The series has traditionally been an 8-week series of concerts, and in later years expanded to include pre-Prom talks, lunchtime chamber concerts, children’s Proms, and Proms in the Park. The culmination of the 8 weeks is a “Last Night of the Proms”. From Wikipedia:
“Many people’s perception of the Proms is based on the Last Night, although this is very different from the other concerts. It usually takes place on the second Saturday in September, and is broadcast in the UK on BBC Radio 3, and on television on BBC Two (first half) and BBC One (second half). The concert is traditionally in a lighter, ‘winding-down’ vein, with popular classics followed by a second half of British patriotic pieces. This sequence traditionally includes Edward Elgar’s “Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1” (to part of which “Land of Hope and Glory” is sung) and Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs”, followed by Thomas Arne’s “Rule, Britannia!”.
The concert concludes with Hubert Parry’s “Jerusalem”, and the British national anthem, in recent years since 2010 in an arrangement by Benjamin Britten. The repeat of the Elgar march at the Last Night can be traced to the spontaneous audience demand for a double encore after its premiere at a 1901 Proms concert. The closing sequence of the second half became fully established in 1954 during Sargent’s tenure as chief conductor.
Thanks to COVID-19, this year’s series is a little less than 6 weeks with an audience-less lineup, fully broadcast on both radio and television. One can find a multitude of videos from years gone by on YouTube, but here’s a great video of “Pomp & Circumstance” with full audience participation, complete with flags and singing “Land of hope and glory”. Enjoy!!