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Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight!

It's been quite awhile since I posted anything in my MCMYCL* series - so here's my entry for the year 1910:

Early in 1910, Sir Edward Elgar designed his Second Symphony as a "loyal tribute" to his sovereign, King Edward VII.

Sadly, the king died, on 6th May of that year. So the tribute became a memorial, and the second movement, "Larghetto," became a funeral march.

I combine that second movement, here, with video footage of Edward VII's funeral procession, recently made available by the Library of Congress, which I include here complete, plus some vintage paintings & photos.

Fair warning: this piece is kind of long, and very complex, and calls for quite a bit of patience. In fact, if you're anything like me, it might take you many listenings over a period of years before you fall in love with it.

But fall in love you should. Consider, for example, the great climactic passage at 10:45 and following, crowned, in this performance, by shatteringly apt & superbly executed descending portamenti (slides from one note to another) in the strings, while the tympani thunder...tummy-wobbling stuff.

An interesting feature of the funeral procession was the special place given to the late king's fox terrier, Caesar, led by a highland soldier, just after the king's riderless horse. I have provided several photos, but little Caesar is hard to find in the videos. If you look really closely, you can see him trotting along from 6:14 to 6:18.

Allegedly, Kaiser Wilhelm II was offended by this precedence given to a dog, further fuelling the fever that led to The Great War, four years later.

Viewer's guide:

1:30: I'm guessing that the carriage which first hoves into view at this point carries the late king's widow, Queen (now Queen Mother) Alexandra. The procession includes a remarkable number of monarchs - the kings on horseback, the queens in carriages.

2:45 - 5:00: a photo-montage, following Edward VII from early youth to marriage to coronation to death.

5:15: the gun-carriage bearing the King's bier makes its first appearance. Elgar's music rises to the occasion.

6:14: Caesar is briefly visible, lower left, just behind and below the King's riderless horse. He passes out of frame at 6:18.

6:25: King George V seems to be having some trouble controlling his mount. His brother, the Duke of Connaught, to his left, waits patiently. His cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II, to his right & a bit behind, on the white horse, maintains a stately pace. (Again, I'm guessing identities, here - if I've guessed wrong, please let me know.)

8:05 and following: the king's bier makes its second appearance. Once again, Elgar's music rises to the occasion! Go figure.

9:12: There's that carriage, again. Note the soldiers, at the left, who raise their guns in salute, and then lower them, as the carriage passes by. If this isn't Alexandra of Denmark, then who is it?

9:45 - 10:45: photos of little Caesar, with Edward, & in his funeral procession.

10:45 and following: the king's bier makes its final appearance. "Glorious John" Barbirolli & his orchestra do themselves proud.

12:15: another famous photo of the king's horse & the king's dog.

13:35: Elgar's epigraph to his Second Symphony, quoting Shelley: "Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight!"

* * * * *

*Modern Concert Music You Can Love

Comments (4)

Great post and video, Steve. The Elgar music definitely belongs in the MCMYCL series, though I'm not competent to remark on it in detail. The video of the funeral procession complements it well.

I found Caesar in the moving video but couldn't find the riderless horse, so I was glad for the still shots of him. The viewer's guide is very helpful.

When Dorothy Sayers died she left an unfinished Peter Wimsey book called Thrones, Dominations. Naturally, the publishers found somebody to finish it for her so they could sell it. It's stilted, literarily, and does not have Sayers's style, though I find it believable that the general plot-line was what she had intended. There is one rather interesting passage, though, because George V dies in the course of the book. A Frenchman who is a friend of Wimsey's shares Wimsey's view from a rooftop of George's funeral procession at which, apparently, Edward VIII walked behind the bier. I believe there are a couple of other people in line for the throne in the immediate vicinity. The Frenchman comments on how foolish the English are, because a single anarchist bomb could wipe out the whole male line of the English monarchy. Wimsey says something like, "You don't understand. This is a family affair." He then launches into a brief disquisition on how England keeps her unique quality, her essence, by never thinking about it--like tightrope walking, if you do it by instinct, you're fine, but if you stop to think, you fall. I think it's a correct passage, as far as it goes. For the most part it's becoming theoretical (to the left, of course) that has ruined England and brought about her fall.

I thought somehow that fit with the place of Caesar in the previous funeral procession.

Lydia - the King's favorite war-charger, Kildare, is just ahead of Caesar and a bit to his left, 6:13-6:18.

The riderless horse, with boots reversed in the stirrups, must be among the most beautiful & resonant of all Western traditions.

That was superb. Thank you. You're still plain nuts, but thank you.

JC - thanks. Watching the video again, after a couple of days, I do think that I did a pretty good job on it.

And I can deal with being called "plain nuts" - heaven knows, I've been called much worse things, in my time, and no doubt will be again.

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