Sir Edward Elgar: The Man Behind "Pomp and Circumstance"

Sir Edward Elgar: The Man Behind "Pomp and Circumstance"

Sir Edward Elgar was an English composer and also the man behind the music called "Pomp and Circumstance". / Photo by: National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons


“My idea is that there is music in the air…and you simply take as much as you require.” These were the words of Sir Edward Elgar. He was an English composer, whose works have been welcomed into the international classical concert collections. Some of his popular compositions are orchestral and choral works, as well as concertos for cello and violin.

While his name may not be as popular as Wagner, Schubert, and Beethoven, he was actually the man behind that haunting music called “Pomp and Circumstance” that is often played in a school graduation ceremony. Every time it is played, it is a way of honoring Elgar’s talent as a composer.

Impact on Classical Music

According to the Elgar Foundation, an organization dedicated to honoring and supporting the people and groups interested to keep the legacy of the composer alive, Sir Elgar had a significant impact on classical music, and his music continues to be played in different parts of the world. One of his popular works was the “Enigma Variations” or the “Variations on an Original Theme.” Comprised of 14 variations, it was dedicated to Sir Elgar’s friends and close acquaintances. The composition itself was based on the moods of his friends, something he considered “very amusing.” When the orchestral work was premiered in London, it received praises from the crowd and paved the way for Elgar’s reputation as a popular composer of his generation to reach unprecedented heights.

His Own War Effort

Wolfson College’s research fellow Dr. Kate Kennedy, who is also an author of dramatized recitals, operatic play, and opera libretti, previously shared through The British Library that just as there were war poets, there were also war composers. 

In her article titled “World War One and Classical Music,” Dr. Kennedy stated that Sir Elgar was among the composers who felt strongly the need to write music in order to meet the general population’s needs to commemorate, raise spirits, mourn, and celebrate. These composers’ works were referred to as a “piece of the war.”

Dr. Kennedy explained that after Sir Elgar’s huge success with the “Enigma Variations” and his “Dream of Gerontius,” he created “The Spirit of England” between 1915 and 1917. The composition served as a Requiem Mass or a remembrance for the dead of World War I. The music became popular, but since the war progressed, the emotional needs of people also changed, and so, another civilian composer named Gustav Holst introduced his creation called “The Planets.”

Nevertheless, the classical music pieces that were composed during the period of war shaped and reflected the attitudes of people toward conflict and even after it.

In the same way, Elgar’s own war effort was that he contributed to a concert that was specifically organized to raise funds to help the British troops during WW1. This was recently highlighted in the nonprofit radio station WSHU. 

Of Hating His Masterpiece

There are composers who disown their works despite their popularity, and Sir Edward Elgar was one of them. As reported by The Guardian, the composer “came to tire” of his first “Pomp and Circumstance March” (there was a series of marches that Sir Edward composed) because it overshadowed other things he wrote and due to the music's "jingoism," which mean extreme patriotism. It made him uneasy since he was also against the First World War.

Embracing Technology

The Elgar Foundation shared that Sir Elgar was one of the very few classical music composers of his time who was willing to embrace technology. In fact, from 1926 onward, the man dedicated himself to recording his work using the gramophone. Sir Elgar likewise tried using the electrical microphone that made choral and orchestral music more realistic.


Sir Edward Elgar uses a gramophone to record his work from year 1926 and onward. / Photo by: Nikotay Antonov via Shutterstock



World-renowned professional orchestras and school orchestral ensembles often include Sir Edward’s music in their concert programs. Some have performed the music “Sea Pictures” at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland, the “Enigma Variations” at the Slovakia Philharmonic Orchestra, and the “Symphony No. 1” at L'Auditori, Barcelona Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona, just to name a few. 

The 2017 classical music concerts in Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, and Hungary all featured Sir Elgar’s masterpieces, both the little less popular and the most well-known.
Today, there is a Sir Edward’s Birthplace Museum in Lower Broadheath, Worcester to welcome fans and visitors. It is the result of the dedication and work of Sir Elgar’s only child, Carice. She shared that her father wanted to be remembered in the cottage and that the museum will serve as a memory of her father for future generations and to give insights about the man and his life. Visiting the place will help the present and future generation imagine the composer’s musical journey toward greatness.

Sir Elgar’s father played the violin and a church organ too, and had a music store in the city wherein Sir Edward would spend many hours, according to reports.