Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Elgar and the Zeppelin Raids on London

Donald Macleod focuses on the year 1915, when Elgar wrote music for The Starlight Express, a work that met a public need for escapism.

By the end of the Great War, Sir Edward Elgar couldn't compose any music to celebrate peace, disillusioned as he was by the whole period, which Donald Macleod explores in conversation with Terry Charman from the Imperial War Museum.

At the beginning of 1915 came the realisation that the Great War was not going to be over in three months. German cruisers had been shelling Whitby and Scarborough, and Zeppelin raids were happening over London. Keen to do his bit, Elgar joined the Hampstead Special Reserve, being called out when needed for air-raid duties. He also started to compose a work genuinely inspired by the pity of war and the inhumanity of warfare, The Spirit of England. But with the sinking of the Lusitania, riots took place in London, and xenophobia was on the rise. At this very same time, Elgar was writing his Polonia, a symphonic prelude in aid of the Polish Relief Fund. However, what the people needed more than anything, was escapism, and Elgar supplied it by returning to fairyland, with his Starlight Express.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Edward Elgar

    2 Songs Op.41

    Singer: John Brecknock. Performer: Victor Morris.
    • Meridian: CDE84173.
    • Meridian.
    • 15.
  • Edward Elgar

    The Windlass for chorus a 4 [c.1914]

    Choir: Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Conductor: David Temple.
    • MERIDIAN : CDE-84173.
    • MERIDIAN.
    • 8.
  • Edward Elgar

    The Starlight Express - incidental music Op.78 [for Algernon Blackwood's play]

    Orchestra: London Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Vernon Handley. Singer: Valerie Masterson. Singer: Derek Hammond-Stroud.
    • EMI : 7243 5-85907 2.
    • EMI.
    • 26.
  • Edward Elgar

    Polonia - symphonic prelude Op.76

    Orchestra: London Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Adrian Boult.
    • EMI : CDM-7 69207 2.
    • EMI.
    • 17.
  • Edward Elgar

    The Spirit of England Op.80 for high voice, chorus and orchestra

    Singer: Felicity Lott. Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestra: Royal Northern Sinfonia. Conductor: Richard Hickox.
    • EMI : CDC-7494812.
    • EMI.
    • 3.
  • Edward Elgar

    Une voix dans le désert Op.77 for reciter, soprano and orchestra

    Narrator: Richard Pasco. Orchestra: Rutland Sinfonia. Conductor: Barry Collett.
    • Pearl: SHE CD9602.
    • Pearl.
    • 8.

Broadcasts

Composers A to Z

Composers A to Z

Visit the extensive audio archive of Radio 3 programmes about Composers and their works.

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

The production team reflects on 5 of Donald Macleod’s best stories from the last 20 years

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

The composer of Jerusalem was very far from the conservative figure his image suggests.

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

What is the strange power of Jerusalem which makes strong men weep?

Composer Help Page

Composer Help Page

Find resources and contacts for composers from within the classical music industry.