Music played a major role in the life of a global ideological phenomenon like the British Empire. This book demonstrates that music has to be recognised as one of the central characteristics of the cultural imperialism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It begins with an account of the imperial music of Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Arthur Sullivan and the establishing of an imperial musical idiom. The book discusses the music composed for or utilized by official occasions: coronations, jubilees, exhibitions, tattoos, Armistice Day and Empire Day. Community singing was also introduced at the Aldershot Military Tattoo in 1927, sponsored by the Daily Express. The book examines the imperial content of a range of musical forms: operetta and ballet, films, music hall songs, ballads, hymns and marches. In one of the scenes depicting ballet, Indian dancing girls are ordered to reveal the riches of the land and the Ballet of Jewels. There were two staples of song in the second half of the nineteenth century: the drawing-room ballad and the music-hall song. Sir Henry Coward was Britain's leading chorus-master, and his 1911 musical world tour with Sheffield choir was the high point of his career. The book concludes with a discussion of practitioners of imperial music: the divas Emma Albani, Nellie Melba and Clara Butt, and the baritone Peter Dawson.
The national anthem and
Any consideration of official music
must begin with the national anthem. It was an indispensable part of all
official occasions for which music was specially provided: coronations,
jubilees, royal weddings and funerals; the great exhibitions; the annual
celebrations of Empire Day and Armistice Day. The national anthem has a
During the period covered by this
study, 1876–1953, the music of Empire was everywhere in Britain.
It could be heard in music halls, concert halls, churches and cinemas;
at coronations, jubilees, pageants, exhibitions and tattoos; in the
park, at the seaside, on the wireless and the gramophone. With its
unique capacity to stimulate the emotions and to create mental images
contemplated the Empire’s dissolution
until the 1940s suggests that such a policy would have commanded little
electoral support, and even though the Labour Party gave India its
independence in 1947, the Government expected to be ruling Africa for
the foreseeable future.
In view of the ubiquity of
imperialism in fiction, painting, poetry and theatre, it would seem
marching troops, to inspire and to convey orders and commands. March
music is defined by The New Grove as
ornamentation of a fixed, regular and repeated drum rhythm.
Stylistic traits of the march that seem to be present throughout
its history include rhythmic patterns with regularly recurring
It was song that brought the Empire
into the home. There were two staples of song in the second half of the
nineteenth century: the drawing-room ballad and the music-hall song. It
is sometimes said that the former was middle class and the latter
working class, but this is an oversimplification. The drawing-room
ballad was written for and aimed at the middle-class drawing-room but
The imperial melodramas which were a
staple of the Victorian and the Edwardian stage were transferred largely
intact to the silent cinema. The stage melodrama had orchestral
accompaniment, with music signalling the entrance of characters,
providing interludes and emphasizing dramatic climaxes. In the absence
of dialogue, silent films were provided with continuous musical
and the 1938 Empire
Exhibi tion in Glasgow were the two principal imperial expositions in
Britain itself. The emphasis of the 1951 Festival of Britain was very
largely domestic, and confirmed the decline of the imperial sentiment
that had animated the exhibitions before the war.
Music was a significant element in the entertainment
provided at these exhibitions. For some, special music was provided
involved military drilling, military music and in due course full-scale
military pageants, as the half-hour between First and Last Post was
extended to two hours.
It was the logical outcome of the fascination with military
spectacle that gripped the British public in the nineteenth century. As
Scott Hughes Myerly observes in his study of British military spectacle
wife Lisel finds the call of her
homeland too strong, and Chinese life too alien, and flees from her
marriage to him.
Composer and critic Cecil Forsyth recognized this imperial
absence in his book Music and Nationalism (1911). Writing from
the perspective of a nationalist and out of a belief in the role of
music to express the national spirit, he argues that the most permanent