Keepin’ It Classy: #15/50: Beethoven Funeral March Number 1 by Johann Heinrich Walch.

These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.

Death is a natural part of life. We are all born and one day, we will all die. There is nothing as constant and safe a bet in all of human history than the fact that one day we will all die. Death comes for ditch diggers and astronauts, poets and hotel maids, it comes for Kings and Queens as well. When commoners die, friends, colleagues and family members gather to pay their respects, share some favourite memories and then, to join together in prayer and song to help send the newly departed on their way to the afterlife (if one believes in that) or to eternal nothingness and slow decay (if that is what you believe as well). Every town and city has a funeral home of some sort. Funerals happen all of the time. They are so common that, in fact, most of us pay them no heed as they occur. We live and then we die. Death is really nothing out of the ordinary.

Except when it is.

The funeral procession for Queen Elizabeth of England.

As I write these words, it is Monday, September 19, 2022 or, as history will remember it, the date of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II of England. Most of us live our whole lives in a form of relative anonymity. Not the Queen. She has sat on the throne of England and, by extension, many countries around the world that England has colonized, for seventy years. Her life was impactful in very profound ways. Her image is known by millions of people around the world. Her legacy of service before self casts a nostalgic glow over a world and a time that many deem as being simpler and more humane. She did not live in relative anonymity. She was one of the most recognizable people in the whole world. And yet, Death still came for her, too. But, while Death came, it did not take her away in silence. The Queen’s death has instantly become an event that will go down in the annals of British history. Thousands of people have stood on the side of the road or have turned to their televisions and computers to watch her coffin pass through the streets of various English towns and cities. Many have left bouquets of flowers and/or jam sandwiches at the gates of Buckingham Palace. Even more will watch her funeral service as it plays out today. Through it all, the Royal Family will mourn in a public manner as befits their status as the head of the nation. And yes, there will be music, too.

Throughout the course of the history of Classical music, there have been many occasions in which composers have created works to be played during the funeral services for members of the nobility. In a previous post, we have discussed funeral marches that were composed by Frederic Chopin and by Edward Elgar *(You can read these posts here and here). Both of those famous funeral marches will find their place in today’s events in London as part of the ceremony honouring Queen Elizabeth. There is a third famous funeral march that is well known in England and which will probably be played today but which is erroneously entitled, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”. First let me tell you why this march is so famous in England and then, I will tell you a bit about why the title is misleading.

A cenotaph in England. Walch’s funeral march often follows the playing of The Last Post.

“Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is a march of remembrance that has been played in England for decades as part of that country’s Remembrance ceremonies held each year to honour those soldiers who have fallen in the fields of battle in various global conflicts. It is always played after the Last Post sounds and, as such it has become part of the soundtrack to the British way of life and is always viewed as being a respectful and honourable piece of music. The thing that is misleading about the title, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is that this composition was not written by Beethoven at all. Instead, the music for this composition was written by a German conductor and composer named Johann Heinrich Walch. Walch had a history of creating funeral marches that commemorated the end of wars. He created a piece called “Pariser Einzugsmarsch” at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This piece of music was also played for Adolf Hitler as he watched German troops marching through the streets of Paris in 1940. The march that has come to be called, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was written when Walch was working under the auspices of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg who, as you may know if you are a history buff, was a link in the hereditary chain between the British Monarchy and the aristocracy of Germany that had existed for centuries, including during WWII. The famous “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was thought to have been originally written by Walch for Prince Albert who was Queen Victoria’s consort. Prince Albert was the Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha at the time. Since then, this composition has been played at the funerals of King Edward VII, British Prime Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as having been played throughout the procession that saw Queen Elizabeth’s coffin pass through the streets of England.

The man, himself…Johann Heinrich Walch…composer of the erroneously titled, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”.

So again, as was the case with the funeral marches written by Chopin and by Elgar, I urge you to click on the link below and give Walch’s composition a few moments of your time. I write with great confidence when I say that I am quite certain you will hear this piece of music played at some point in the funeral proceedings. And if it is played and there are credits displayed on television that call this piece “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”, I hope that you will all wag your finger at the screen and state aloud that you know the real composer is Johann Heinrich Walch and that you read it first on Tom Macinnes’ little blog series called, Keepin’ It Classy.

I will end by offering a simple wish for Queen Elizabeth and all others who happen to share her death date today…thank you to each of you for being part of our world for as long as you managed. Many blessings to you and those you love as you transition from life to death. May whatever happens next be painless. Let it be a form of release. God Bless you all.

The link to the video for the composition, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” by Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.

The link to the official website for Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.

The link to the classical music radio station found in my very own town of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada…Classical 103.1…can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Keepin’ It Classy…Composition #14/50: Enigma Variations, Op.36, No. 9 “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar.

These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.

HRH Queen Elizabeth. This was her official portrait taken in honour of her 70th year as Queen of England.

As a blogger, I try my best to stay one day ahead when it comes to publishing the content that you get to read. As a result, I spent yesterday morning creating the latest post in my Reader’s Choice series. When I was finished, the post was completed and all that was left for me to do was to hit the “Publish” button this morning and the post would have gone live as intended. At the time I was writing yesterday’s post, I had no idea that someone’s 96 year old Granny was on her deathbed halfway across the world. But, after having a bit of lunch and a spot of hot tea, I learned, what the world soon learned, that Queen Elizabeth had passed away. No matter what opinion one holds of Queen Elizabeth or of the British Monarchy, in general, her passing is big news. It dwarfs much of what is in the current news cycle at this moment. It certainly made what I had written yesterday seem irrelevant…at least in terms of publishing it in the midst of all this sadness and uproar caused by the Queen’s death. So, instead of simply hitting the “Publish” button this morning as I had intended, I am, instead, creating a whole new post for today because there is certainly lots to say about Elizabeth of Windsor, her impact and her legacy. So, for those keeping track, I will publish the Reader’s Choice post on Monday and am publishing a new post for Keepin’ It Classy today (which is Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 as I write).

Like most people reading this post, Queen Elizabeth has been the only Queen I have known in my lifetime. Prime Ministers and Presidents have come and gone but for seventy years, she has occupied the throne of England. Her longevity merits applause. When she was first crowned as Queen, she promised to devote her entire life to public service. That she has done. Queen Elizabeth began fulfilling that promise by working as a mechanic during WWII. In the passing years, she has gone on to head up hundreds and hundreds of charities and other organizations whose mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I grew up in a home in which the example of service before self was viewed as a great virtue. My mother, in particular, always devoted herself to the care of others as a registered nurse and then, after retirement, as someone who helped out in Seniors homes as well as in her church. I followed her lead by becoming a school teacher. Helping children and their families was a tremendous source of satisfaction and pride to me. So, when the news of Queen Elizabeth’s passing first became known, my initial thought was for my mother and those of her generation who placed so much emphasis on helping others based upon the Queen’s own example. Further to this, one of our family’s most steadfast traditions at Christmas time was to gather round the television at some point during the day and listen to the annual “Queen’s Christmas Message” from Buckingham Palace. It brought my family a great sense of peace to hear her speak and to know that she was present at the helm. The simple fact that she lived and was so steady a public presence for all of these years is much of what made her so important to ordinary folks like us. The political winds may have blown this way or that but the Queen was unwavering and steadfast and resolute in her demeanour. As long as she was there, our world would be alright. And now she is gone. A foundational pillar has been removed by death and the world seems a little shakier this day than it was before.

However, any sadness or trepidation that I may feel this morning is counterbalanced by an understanding that the legacy of Elizabeth of Windsor is complicated, at best. While there were many public declarations of sadness and grief from around the world, there were also many declarations of glee and exultation that she was finally dead. For as much as the Queen may have represented a sense of stability and calm to many of us she, also, represented oppression and privilege to many others around the world, too. Apparently there were fireworks and dancing in the streets of places such as Northern Ireland, a nation whose entire history is coloured red from the seemingly endless amount of blood spilled in conflicts with England (of which the Queen was head). Many countries in Africa celebrated the demise of a foreign ruler whose territorial ambitions caused untold hardship and deprivation to the local Indigenous populations. Even a country such as Jamaica is preparing lawsuits, as you read these words, against the British Crown for reparations for the slave trade a century ago. Part of the back story to the song, “No Woman, No Cry” by the great Bob Marley has to do with the consequences of British empire building upon the Jamaican population. *(You can read that post here). Finally, there are many younger people who have watched how the institution of the Monarchy reacted to the presence of strong young, intelligent, vibrant women such as Princess Diana and Meghan Markle. That they were expected to stand quietly by and temper their own enthusiasms rankled many modern women who took the view that Queen Elizabeth was a relic from a bygone era and that her demise may be what was necessary to start the modernization of the Monarchy that is needed if it is to remain relevant in an ever changing world.

Sir Edward Elgar…composer of the Enigma Variations.

I am sure that the debate over Queen Elizabeth’s legacy will rage on over the course of the next few days and weeks. However, my greater sense is that much of the politics of remembrance will give way to pageantry in the end. The British are known for many things and one of them is how to put on a good public show…whether that be for Royal weddings, funerals or coronations. So, I am predicting that the funeral for Queen Elizabeth will end up being one of the top stories from the year 2022. It will be a spectacle of emotion and expense. I also predict, with great certainty, that the Queen’s funeral will have a playlist and that one of the pieces of music on this playlist will be “Nimrod”, Variation No. 9 of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations Suite. There are many who state that, after the anthemic notes of “God Save the Queen/King”, which is England’s national anthem, the most patriotic English composition in history is “Nimrod” by Elgar. So, let’s talk a bit about Elgar’s Enigma Variations and why Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” is viewed as being so special.

One of the many examples of correspondence between Elgar and Jaeger regarding the Enigma Variations suite.

Edward Elgar is viewed as being the greatest English composer of all time. I wrote about him when we discussed his other great work, “Pomp and Circumstance”. *(You can read that post here). All throughout his life, Edward Elgar was plagued by periods of depression and self-loathing. One of the factors that helped to elevate him in the ranks of the great composers in history, besides talent, was that he was surrounded by a wonderful network of family and friends who all did a tremendous job at keeping his spirits up and helping Elgar to remain productive and to recognize the merit of the work he was creating. Edward Elgar, to his credit, understood who he was and how valuable his support network was to him in his career and in his personal life. So, in gratitude he created a suite of music that has become known as the Enigma Variations. There are fourteen individual variations that make up the entire suite. Each Variation is based upon some aspect of someone who was important to Elgar in his life. The tone of each dedicated variation was created to reflect some aspect of the relationship Elgar had with that individual person…some variations are more upbeat, some are more serious, some are romantic and so on. Variation No. 9 was dedicated to his long-time musical mentor and publisher, Auguste J. Jaeger. It was Jaeger, as much as anyone else, who was responsible for constantly reminding Elgar that he had worth as a composer and that his compositions were the equal of his heroes such as Beethoven. Jaeger was also one of Elgar’s most honest critics, often challenging him to work harder, to be better and to polish his work to an even finer edge. Edward Elgar came to rely on and appreciate Jaeger’s counsel. Thus, for Jaeger’s variation, Elgar created a soaring piece of music that is characterized by a consistent and steady musical structure, around which other chords rise and fall, building into a crescendo of fervor that never fails but to arouse an emotional response in the listener. Elgar entitled Jaeger’s variation as being “Nimrod” because, in German, the word Jager means “hunter” and in the Old Testament, the term “Nimrod” means mighty hunter before The Lord. When Elgar released his entire Enigma Variations suite, it was met with much approval from music critics, as well as from ordinary citizens. In time, Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” became the most popular of the variations. It has been performed at many prominent national events in England such as at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the funerals of Princess Diana and Prince Phillip, as well, “Nimrod” is played each year at the London Cenotaph to honour those who gave their lives in the many wars in which England has fought. Thus, I feel relatively safe in predicting that “Nimrod” will be played at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, too. It is just seems like such a British thing to do.

I have to be honest and admit that I am not overly sad about Queen Elizabeth passing away. Like anyone in her situation, I do feel a sense of sympathy for her family members for which she was not their Monarch but, instead, was their mother or grandmother. I am sure that her corgis are wondering where she is as well. But, more than anything, I am somewhat anxious as to what the future holds for England. Even though I live in Canada, what happens in places like England and France and the United States affects us. We are countries built upon a foundation of western democratic principles. As we have already witnessed under Donald Trump’s tenure at the helm of the US, the ripple effects of political instability in the land of any of our allies ends up washing up upon our shores, too. So, in the case of England, I wonder what the political fallout will be from the leadership vacuum her death represents. One thing that I do know is that King Charles has huge shoes to fill. I sincerely hope that he assumes his place at the head of the monarchy with much confidence and helps to inspire a nation and a Commonwealth to move forward with common purpose. One thing I am sad for is that Queen Elizabeth’s death removes one more female role model from the world’s stage. Do we really need another old white man in a position of authority? In any case, the immediate future will unfold in a very scripted manner, according to the formal government plans announced yesterday. There will be much time set aside for reflection and for public mourning. Her funeral will take place a week or so from now. In that time, I believe that Elgar’s Enigma Variation, Op. 36, No. 9. “Nimrod” will have a prominent airing and will come to be the anthem of her passing. So please take a moment to click on the link at the bottom of this post and listen to “Nimrod” for yourself so that you will recognize it when you hear it played live in the days and weeks to come in London. As you listen to it playing, know that it was written for someone who was viewed as being a true and resolute friend to the composer. Now that same thematic quality will be applied to the Queen of all of England and the Commonwealth of countries, too. Regardless of the politics of the moment, I wish the Queen’s family peace and I wish her a joyous, relaxed reunion with her husband and all of the corgis who went before her.

The link to the video for the composition, Enigma Variations, Op. 36, No. 9, “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar can be found here.

“Nimrod” was used to great effect in the closing scene of the recent movie, Dunkirk. This score, in combination with Winston Churchill’s “Never Surrender” speech are part of the fabric of British history. The link to the video for this scene can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Royal Family can be found here. ***You may sign a Book of Condolence via this website.

***As always, all original work found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022