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London's great landmarks and attractions have inspired composers over the centuries. Indulge in a spot of musical sightseeing with 15 of the best classical pieces inspired by the city. By Rob Weinberg.
'Cockaigne' was a term used in Elgar's day as a metaphor for gluttony and drunkenness, and the name was applied humorously to London. Elgar described his popular overture as 'cheerful and Londony...honest, healthy, humorous and strong, but not vulgar'. Listen out for cockneys, church bells, couples in love, and various brass bands.
Vaughan Williams' second symphony incorporates the sounds of London, including street vendors' calls and the Westminster chimes. The first movement evokes Hampstead Heath on a Bank Holiday and the second, Bloomsbury Square in November (pictured). The third conjures up Westminster Embankment and the Strand at night, while the fourth depicts the Thames passing, and along with it London’s Edwardian glory days.
For this exhilarating work for double chorus and orchestra, Walton took his inspiration from a poem by the 16th century Scotsman William Dunbar. Both words and score evoke the bustling energy of a city that never seems to stop even for a breath.
A series of 43 tiny pieces and sketches composed by the 8-year old Mozart while in London. Most of the pieces last less than a minute and were a form of musical dictation for the boy composer, who seems to have jotted down tunes as he thought of them.
‘London Salute’ is a march-like depiction of the city, all hubbub and movement, with ceremony and tradition never far away.
Handel wrote this music for an outdoor performance for King George I on the River Thames. The King watched from the royal barge with various dukes and duchesses as the 50 musicians played nearby. His Majesty enjoyed the music so much, he asked the musicians to play the three suites three times over the course of the trip down the river.
Eric Coates composed his ‘London Again Suite’ in response to the huge popularity of his original ‘London Suite’. Both suites each draw inspiration from three London streets - including Knightsbridge (pictured) - and create sound worlds to represent each location.
Paul Lewis sketched out his Festival of London March when he was 17, but waited another 11 years before it was orchestrated. It was used as the finale of the London Festival Ballet’s 21st Birthday Gala Performance at the London Coliseum. A light music piece, more in the vein of Handel than Elgar or Vaughan Williams.
Percy Grainger’s title was originally Clog Dance. But he changed the name to ‘Handel in the Strand’ because the piece suggested both the music of Handel and the then home of London musical comedy, The Strand (pictured).
Hess was inspired by the hustle and bustle of the modern city, in three movements. ‘Congestion Charge’ captures the stressful commute faced by London’s drivers while the movement depicting the towering London Eye as the sun rises has a peaceful French horn melody.
Haydn’s set of London symphonies – sometimes called the Salomon symphonies after the impresario who brought the composer to London – were written during a four-year period in the 1790s. One set was written during Haydn's first visit to the city; the other was composed in preparation for his second visit. Pictured are the concert rooms in Hanover Square where Haydn gave his first series of concerts in 1791.
Haydn Wood was given his name because, at the time of his birth, his father had just attended a performance of Haydn’s ‘Creation’. The March from this suite was used for many decades as the signature tune to the radio show, ‘Down your Way’. Wood followed this suite with ‘London Cameos’ and ‘Snapshots of London’.
‘London Fields’ was commissioned for a light music festival and has four movements: Springtime in Kew, The Maze at Hampton Court (pictured), St James’s Park – a lakeside reverie, and Hampstead Heath – rondo for roundabouts.
This romantic and relaxed piece became familiar as one of the themes for the popular radio show, ‘In Town Tonight’.
John Ireland's overture includes a motif that was recognised as representing the cry of a London bus conductor, "'dilly, Piccadilly!" The piece came several years after Ireland’s three 'London Pieces' for piano - 'Chelsea Reach', 'Ragamuffin' and 'Soho forenoons', written between 1917 and 1920 – and Ireland said the overture should be 'regarded as the fourth…in a similar light and unportentous manner.'