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Pomp and Circumstance

posted Jun 8, 2013, 10:26 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jun 21, 2013, 7:39 PM ]
It’s hard to imagine a graduation without this instantly recognizable music, but it wasn’t originally intended as a commencement processional...  

Sir Edward Elgar composed a series of five marches: Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches, Op. 39. The title is from Shakespeare’s Othello, Act III, Scene 3: 

Farewell the neighing steed… The spirit-stirring drum,
th’ ear-piercing fife, the royal banner…
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
 

The first two marches premiered at a concert by the Liverpool Orchestral Society in 1901. In 1902, the Trio section of March No. 1, “Land of Hope and Glory” was used for the coronation of King Edward VII. The Professor of Music at Yale University chose this same section to be played in 1905 when Sir Elgar received an honorary doctorate there. “After Yale used the tune, Princeton used it, the University of Chicago, Columbia…” music commentator Mile Hoffman tells National Public Radio. “Then eventually… everybody started using it. It just became the thing that you had to graduate to.”  

Perhaps that’s because while it sounds triumphant, it has an underlying quality of nostalgia. It blends the “pomp” of accomplishment with the bittersweet “circumstance” of moving on; making it perfectly suited to a commencement that marks the beginning of a new stage of life, as it ends another...