Pomp and Circumstance

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With the month of May here, high school and college graduations will be in full swing. And what is the number-1 expected piece of music to be played at these memorable and special occasions? What else but Edward Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance! Here is a bit of history and background concerning this delightful and dignified march. Composed in 1901, it’s original purpose was to accompany the coronation of King Edward VII of England, succeeding his mother Queen Victoria. The title is derived from the master playwright Shakespeare, when he penned “…Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!” in Othello, Act 3, Scene 3. So how did it evolve from being linked with coronations of royalty to graduations of students? It all started when the march gradually received exposure after the first American premiere when Theodore Thomas conducted the Chicago Orchestra on November 28th, 1902. As Elgar gained more popularity, he received many invitations to conduct his works in America. Eventually, his friend and Yale University music professor Samuel Sanford arranged for Elgar to receive an honorary doctorate degree of music from Yale in June of 1905. Pomp & Circumstance was used as a recessional, at the end of the graduation ceremony. The university most likely wanted to make Elgar feel welcome with one of his most recent, successful, and popular pieces. The processional, or entrance piece, was Felix Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas overture (can you imagine if this was still used today instead of Pomp & Circumstance?). And with Yale being an Ivy League school, another Ivy League school just had to copy its lead: Princeton, in 1907. After that, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Vassar, and Rutgers all followed suit, in 1908, 1913, 1916, and 1918 respectively. Having P&C accompany graduations soon became the trend we know today, and we can all agree that it’s the perfect fit for the sense of accomplishment students feel around this time of year! Congratulations to all the grads!!

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