September means The Last Night of the Proms and a rousing sing song of Rule Britannia. A spot of outstanding patriotism that brings The Albert Hall and Hyde Park to a Union Jack waving frenzy of solidarity.
What I didn’t realise is that Rule Britannia is the last part of the Fantasia on British Sea Songs, a vital part of the Last Night.
This is a medley of British sea songs arranged by Sir Henry Wood in 1905 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. One of the most famous bits is of course the Sailors hornpipe.
It comprises nine parts which follow the course of the Battle of Trafalgar from the point of view of a British sailor, starting with the call to arms, progressing through the death of a comrade, thoughts of home, and ending with a victorious return and the assertion that Britain will continue to ‘rule the waves’:
- Bugle Calls
- The Anchor’s Weighed
- The Saucy Arethusa
- Death of Tom Bowling
- Sailors Hornpipe
- The dance that gets faster and faster and the audience clap along, trying to keep up with the orchestra. The proms version has an extra beat written into it right at the very end so that the orchestra always finished first. It catches out even the most dedicated promenader every time.
- Farewell and Adieu, Ye Spanish Ladies
- Home Sweet Home
- See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes
- Rule, Britannia!
Rule Britannia originates from the poem by James Thomson and set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. The song is a reference to the Command of the sea status which the British Empire had throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. It is strongly associated with the Royal Navy, but also used by the British Army.
I was very lucky and earned the right to be a promenader in 1982 – the year the Falkland War ended. Patriotism was at fever pitch. Solidarity was the name of the game. We took the roof off the Royal Albert Hall.
I will leave you with a recording of that night – I sang my socks off.
Last Night of The Proms – 1982