Sir Edward Elgar Cockaigne (In London Town), Opus 40
No one will ever suggest Sir Edward Elgar was an impressionist. But his Cockaigne overture is perfectly suited to the physical panoply of turn-of-the-century London, and full of loving description. In an emotional sense, the music adopts Brahms’ recipe for the Academic Festival Overture: boisterousness without slapstick; serenity without chill; yearning without loss. But the greater joy of listening to this music lies in sampling the urban energy of Elgar’s day and the newfound power Elgar brings to bear.
Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 in D major
Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 in D major The Vaughan Williams Fifth Symphony, composed between two far more violent works, is one of the most evocative pieces of music ever written – timelessly English, profoundly and gently sincere. It floats in upon the listener with soft motto horn calls, as if from a modal dream peopled with chords of smoke and fugues of fog. It inhabits a world of indistinct shapes moving through blacked-out streets, shadowy church gardens in the moonlight, and harbor mists. Yet no menacing or tragic vista is revealed in what Vaughan Williams depicts. Through everything muted and uncertain in 1943 wartime England, one senses only a deep reverence for beauty and the human heart. This is a work of cherished normality.
Benjamin Britten “Four Sea Interludes” and “Passacaglia” from Peter Grimes, Opus 33a and 33b
The ocean’s mystery and undertow have ideally suited music. And this has seldom been more the case than in a maritime nation like Britain. Think of Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony, Elgar’s Sea Pictures, or Delius’ Sea Drift, each a metaphysical work finding in the lives of mariners, or in “the sea itself” and its creatures, a symbolic rendering of the human condition. So it is no surprise that Benjamin Britten would turn to the North Sea waves of his native Suffolk for the ground-breaking and disturbing 1945 opera, Peter Grimes.