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Noon Edition

Musical Metropolis: London

Ether Game continues our trip around the world to different musical metropolises this week. For this journey, we cross the English channel to visit the city of double-decker buses, the Piccadilly Circus, the Tower Bridge, a new royal baby and an upcoming royal wedding: LONDON!

Here's our list of some London-themed pieces. Mind the gap!

  • George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), Water Music – Although born in Germany, George Frideric Handel spent the majority of his career in London, working for King George I. Handel wrote music for all different occasions for the king, including his beloved Water Music, written for the occasion of a society river party. These river parties were the 18th-century equivalent of the modern photo-op. For this party, musical acts floated up and down London's Thames River, playing the (appropriately-titled) Water Music. One journalist relayed that King George liked Handel's music so much that he ordered it played three times "in the going and again in the returning." As these pieces were meant to be performed outside, Handel's orchestration is filled with trumpets, horns and drums. The third suite from Water Music includes the much softer instruments of strings and flutes and was performed at a royal "choice supper."


  • Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), Symphony No. 104 in D major, "London" – For much of Haydn's career, he was contractually bound to remain on the estate of Nikolaus Esterházy, a Hungarian prince who retained Haydn and a full complement of performing musicians for the entertainment of himself and his guests. This gave Haydn few opportunities to travel abroad, even as his music was growing increasingly well known. When Nikolaus Esterházy died in 1790, his son, Anton gave Haydn a year's leave from the family estate. Thus, it was with great excitement that the composer traveled to London for the first time. As it turned out, Haydn's fame as a composer had preceded him to the great city. He composed his final 12 symphonies in London, which are commonly known as the "London Symphonies." What we just heard was his very last symphony, symphony number 104, which often goes by the confusing and redundant name, the "London Symphony."


  • Edward Elgar (1857–1934), Cockaigne Concert Overture ("In London Town") – Edward Elgar became a champion of British music around the turn of the 20th century, but fame did not come easily to him in the cultural capital of London. Elgar was born outside of Worcester, a little over 100 miles north of London. Elgar was self-taught, and early in his career, he took trips to London to try sell his music to publishers. For years, though, he was completely shut out of musical life in the city, and had trouble making ends meet. However in 1899 at age 42, Elgar's Enigma Variations premiered in London to great acclaim, and he became the toast of the town. The next year, he received a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society to write a London-themed work, and the concert overture Cockaigne, "In London Town" was the result. The term "Cockaigne" refers to an imaginary place of luxury, gluttony, and excess, but it was also a term that Londoners lovingly applied to their own city.


  • William Walton (1902–1983), Crown Imperial March – Commissioned by the BBC for the coronation of England's King Edward VIII, William Walton's famous Crown Imperial march wound up being written for the crowning of Edward's brother, George, instead. The scandal created by Edward's love for the American divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson brought public opinion of the monarchy to one of its lowest points, and caused him to abdicate the throne. George VI was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on May 12, 1937. Developments on the European continent at the time were extremely troubling, and England soon declared war on Germany in September, 1939. Although victorious, George VI lost his title as Emperor of India, following the partition of that country into India and Pakistan. By the time his short, troubled reign ended with his sudden death in 1952 however, George had successfully left the monarchy in better shape than he had found it, despite losing the title of Emperor of India.


  • Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782), Sinfonia Concertante – The fame of Johann Sebastian Bach's musical sons spread all over Europe. Wilhelm Friedrich worked in Dresden, Carl Philipp Emanuel flourished in Berlin, Johann Christoph Friedrich performed in Bückeberg, and Johann Christian found fame in London. The "London" Bach even apparently "anglicized" his name, going by "John Bach." After developing a good reputation in London, J.C. Bach started to accompany King George III's flute playing activities. A profitable relationship with the flourishing music publishing trade was quickly established in both London and Paris and the operatic compositions he staged in London were a huge success. Bach and his roommate, noted viola de gamba player Carl Friedrich Abel, also established a series of concerts that were to have a lasting impact on the concert life of London. He even earned the praise and admiration of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.


  • Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, arranged by Sir Henry Wood (1869–1944) – Every summer in London, fans of Classical music gather for an eight-week long festival known as the Proms, dubbed "the world's largest and most democratic music festival." The conductor of the Last Night of the Proms concert is a highly coveted position, held by such greats as Adrian Boult, Charles Mackerras, and Leonard Slatkin. Sir Henry Wood, the orchestrator of the piece we just heard by Rachmaninoff, had the longest tenure as the Last Night conductor, starting with the very first Proms concert back in 1895 and lasting until 1943, just before his death. His connection to the Proms was so strong that the official title of the festival is now "The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts...presented by the BBC." Although he became more famous as a conductor, Wood arranged a variety of orchestrations alongside his version of Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C sharp minor, including the first orchestral version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.


  • Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), The Cries Of London – Orlando Gibbons was one of the most remarkable and prolific composers of the early Jacobean period. In 1603, at the age of twenty, he was appointed to the Chapel Royal, where he would remain, eventually advancing to the post of senior organist, until his death in 1625. His choral piece The Cries of London for viols and voices, is remarkable, weaving together the famous In Nomine chant melody with the street cries and songs of everyday London city life. The song begins with the nightwatchman's call, marking 3 o'clock in the morning, and moves through an entire day's worth of calls: vendors selling fish, fruits, ink, lace, and clothing; a ratcatcher, a man in search of a lost horse; a chimney sweep; a patient begging on behalf of the mad inmates of Bedlam, and finally, the night watchman again, returning to herald midnight.


  • Eric Coates (1886–1957), London Suite: Knightsbridge – Eric Coates became one of the most successful composers of light classical music in early 20th century London. He was trained at London's Royal Academy of Music, and upon leaving school in 1910, became a violist in Queen's Hall Orchestra under the direction of Henry Wood, one of London's greatest conductors. His viola playing eventually took a backseat to his composing and conducting duties. He was fired from the orchestra after sending in too many people to sub for him, but Coates was relieved, because it allowed him to work on his music full time. In 1933, he wrote the London Suite. The final movement, a march named after the residential district of Knightsbridge, became a popular work, used as the theme music to several radio shows on the BBC. Coates's London Suite became so popular that three years later he wrote another suite called London Again Suite.


  • The Clash, "London Calling" – The Clash's third album London Calling from 1979 came at a desperate time for the punk rock band. They were in debt, warring with their record company, and fearful of a decline in London's once-burgeoning punk music scene (they mention this in the lyrics, singing "Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.") 1979 was also a bit of a dark time for the once-glorious city of London. Unemployment and drug use had wrecked the city. The album London Calling was bleak, apocalyptic, and raw-and audiences loved it. The cover of the album was an homage to Elvis Presley's 1956 debut album, with a black and white photo and pink and green text along the side and bottom. However, instead of an energetic Elvis singing and strumming a guitar, you have a picture of The Clash's bass player smashing his bass guitar on stage.


Want more London pieces? Check out this week's podcast!



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