Inside The Music: Elgar’s Cockaigne (In London Town)

Jonathan James takes us inside the music as part of our classical music series.

Discover about Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture and how two lovers jaunt through the city of London.


Let’s talk about Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture, and the first question is what on earth does Cockaigne mean in this context? Its spelt with a K and a G by the way.

Well it means, the land of delight, and refers, interestingly, to London. We get the word Cockney from it. and in this overture whats been described as the wandering of 2 lovers through the city, and all the sights and the sounds that they see.

So it starts with some quite Cockney sounding tunes, Elgar described them as stout and steaky. Steaky – that’s his own word.

And then

That sort of thing. Really jaunty. But later on we also get this noble colour that we associate with Elgar. Listen to this tune.

It’s beautiful and serene, and brings up a different image of London doesn’t it? And equally I wonder whether this theme refers to the lovers themselves.

It’s beautiful. Wistful. Quite romantic. But the theme that perhaps stands out the most is the joyous march of the brass band.

What happens is that you’ll hear these tunes again and again in the course of the piece. Its almost as if the lovers are walking round in circles. Or you could imagine it that they are just hearing these sounds in the background and they’re curiously drawn towards them and sure enough with the big band it feels as if every time we hear that march it gets stronger and stronger until they stumble upon the band itself in the high street. Its Elgar at his most playful.

So does this overture capture the spirit of London past for you as well? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so do leave them below in the comments or feel free to like and subscribe to these videos. Thanks for watching.