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KS4 Music: Elgar (1962)

How do contextual influences affect how music is created, performed and heard?

Main image of KS4 Music: Elgar (1962)
Author Poppy Simpson, BFI
Topic Music and context, Music and lyrics, National anthems
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The life and times of the composer Sir Edward Elgar, from his humble beginnings to international fame, are explored in Ken Russell's inventive 'biography'.

Elgar (1962) is an ambitious piece of film. The narration is sparse and director Ken Russell fuses Elgar's music with evocative imagery and dialogue free 'dramatisations'. Meanwhile, archive footage and glimpses into Elgar's personal life give the audience a deeper contextual understanding of certain works.

This lesson idea uses a clip about Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance' from which 'Land of Hope and Glory' was derived. The words were not Elgar's and while he was proud of the song and its popularity as an unofficial national anthem during WWI, he came to dislike the song's nationalist tone. The clip offers an opportunity to explore the relationship between music and lyrics and highlights how there are pieces of music can be interpreted and used in different ways and how these may change over time.

Lesson Objective

  • To reflect on how contextual influences affect how music is created, performed and heard and how the nature of a piece of music may change over time.
  • To think about the elements contributing to certain types of musical genre, in this case anthems.


Ask students to think about the factors that can influence a composition: ie. historical context, whether it has been commissioned for a particular occasion etc. Students could brainstorm in pairs or small groups.

Now ask them to consider what kinds of factors might affect how a piece of music is received (its popularity) and the ways in which it is listened to.


Main Attraction

Play students the clip Hope and Glory, asking them to note down the information they learn about the context in which Elgar's initial piece was composed, when and why it became popular and how the composer's own view of the piece changed. Collect their ideas on the board as part of a whole class discussion.

Encourage students to investigate the relationship between music and words. Ask them to answer the following questions: How would they describe the tune of 'Pomp and Circumstance' (the music Land of Hope and Glory was derived from)? How do the words change the nature of the piece, if at all? (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!) Is the changing historical context of the music more significant than the words in changing its nature and the way in which it was understood?

Pupils will most likely be familiar with 'Land of Hope and Glory'. Where have they heard it before (football matches, sung as a hymn, last night of the Proms)? Why is it still sung today, and what meanings do students think people attach to the song? Ask them to write a short description of the piece, using key vocabulary relating to rythmn/metre, melody/harmony, explaining why they think the piece was adopted and has endured as an 'unofficial national anthem'. What do they think the main features of an anthem are?

Musical contexts can evolve over time, in turn changing the nature of the music. Challenge students to write a paragraph either in support or against this statement using the example of 'Land of Hope and Glory'.


End Credits

Play students another clip from Elgar such as Enigma variations or Cello concerto. In discussion, compare and contrast the differences between the music in these extracts with 'Land of Hope and Glory'.


External Links

Video Clips
3. Enigma Variations (1:01)
4. Hope and Glory (2:22)
5. Cello Concerto (4:18)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Elgar (1962)Elgar (1962)

Read more about this programme

See also