The idea of writing six Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Op. 39 came soon after the success of his Imperial March (1896), performed at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on June 22nd, 1897. The first four were published between 1901 and 1907, when Elgar was about forty, the fifth in 1930, a few years before his death. The sixth is unfinished, it was composed posthumously from composer’s sketches of Elgar’s best-known works, and was printed in 1956 and in 2005-2006. This undoubtedly leads to a different interpretation of the number of his ceremonial marches – are they five or six? Elgar’s idea was that they should be seen as a suite rather than a collection of individual works. This can be traced in their mood – glittering heroism in the first and fourth, contrasting with the subdued brightness of the other three. Most famous among them is the first, Land of Hope and Glory, which became the unofficial second national anthem in the British Empire. The composer borrowed its title from Shakespeare’s Othello.
It was drafted on 3 June 1901 and completed in July, one month before the second one. His friends contemporaries recount that his central melody was an earlier one; as early as May he had submitted his “devilish pretty popular tune.” The first and second marches were sent for publication in August, and the first was premiered on October 19th, 1901 by the Liverpool orchestra. A few days later it was also performed in London with Henry Wood conducting. The result was sensational, the march was received with ovations, the audience was on its feet and they had to repeat the work, but again the audience did not allow the concert to go ahead and it was then performed a third time.
“Boosey” published the March in 1902. Years later, on May 2nd, 1924 it was included in Elgar’s first broadcast for the BBC, played by the Orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society in Westminster Hall, which is still used today for large public ceremonial events.
Arthur Christopher Benson, with whom the composer worked, wrote the text to the march tune and it is often performed in a version with a choir.