Sir Edward Elgar wrote five Pomp and Circumstance Marches, all wordless. When he composed the March No. 1 in 1901 it was not originally intended to go with the poem of A.C. Benson (1862-1925), which was written for Elgar's 1902 Coronation Ode. King Edward VII had like the tune so much he suggested adding words to it: Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 was re-used in the Ode, then the chorus was re-used in revised form back on the March. In this form it was first sung by Dame Clara Butt in 1902.

The march with the chorus has become synonymous with English patriotism, both serious and in excessive fun; and probably most of the time the version we hear is the raucous celebration of the Last Night of the Proms. But it can be very different.

I was moved to tears yesterday by a haunting, ethereal rendition, as stirring and noble as any I have ever heard but infinitely more serious and deeply touching. The low, willowy voice of Kathleen Ferrier sang it, and Sir John Barbirolli conducted the Hallé Orchestra. The sound recording was of poor quality: it was 16th November 1951, in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, rebuilt from its wartime ruins. This was part of the reopening concert, in the presence of the Queen (later The Queen Mother). (It was released on a Barbirolli compilation in 2002.)

Ferrier's unique, utterly thrilling voice made it sound like the English folksongs she was famed for; and also like a solemn oratorio: like Elgar's own Gerontius perhaps. Old, and distant, and intimate, and personal. The chorus came in, under Barbirolli's masterful direction, perfect for Elgar, and yes it was a patriotic song, a praise of their recovery from war and their rebuilding, but it was quietly so, for all the fervour of the singing. I cannot remember when I have last been so moved by music.

The full text of the poem follows:

Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned.
God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov'ran brows, beloved, renowned,
Once more thy crown is set.
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
Have ruled thee well and long;
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained,
Thine Empire shall be strong.

Land of Hope and Glory,
Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee,
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.

Thy fame is ancient as the days,
As Ocean large and wide:
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise,
A stern and silent pride:
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son.