The apoplectic comments of Harvey Proctor and Nile Gardiner about EU flags being waved during the singing of Rule, Britannia! at the Last Night of the Proms are worthy of Private Eye’s Sir Herbert Gussett (Brexiters outraged after crowds wave EU flag at Last Night of the Proms, 10 September). They also demonstrate their authors’ ignorance both of the origins of the song and of the reasons for its inclusion in the BBC Proms.
Rule, Britannia! was composed as the finale of a masque commissioned in 1740 by Frederick, Prince of Wales. He, like the rest of the Hanoverians in this country, was both British and German. As well as heir to the British crown, he was also Prince Friedrich Ludwig of Hanover. In commissioning a masque on the growth of British naval power, he was simply positioning himself as the man of the future, to contrast himself with his hated father, George II, but he most certainly was not suggesting that Britain’s future lay in “going it alone”.
As for the place of Rule, Britannia! in the Proms, this came about because Sir Henry Wood included it in his Fantasia on British Sea Songs, written in 1905 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. The Fantasia has survived (albeit increasingly messed around with) not because it is a British tradition, but because the audiences like it – the same audiences who wave EU flags and are happy to have a patriotic British song performed by a Norwegian soprano.
Harvey Proctor may fear that Henry Wood revolves in his grave at the thought of EU flags at the Proms. But Henry would surely be grateful to Edgar Speyer of the Frankfurt banking family for bankrolling the concerts when he was chairman of the Classical Music Society from 1902 to 1914. Without his support, the Proms could have disappeared. Sadly, anti-German sentiment forced this patron of British arts and friend of Edward Elgar from the country in 1915.
Dr Tony Morgan
The Thank EU for the Music group who handed out EU flags would have had an advocate in the late Kenneth Clark who, in his memorable TV series Civilisation, remarked: “As I have said, and shall go on saying, nearly all the steps upwards in civilisation have been made in periods of internationalism.”
Saltdean, East Sussex
The waving of EU flags during the Last Night of the Proms has drawn ire from Brexiters, while the campaign group Thank EU for the Music argues that it sends a “powerful signal to the world that Britain wants back IN!” Neither side paid any attention to the fact that the lead soloist of the event was from Norway, a country that has twice rejected EU membership but maintains cooperative relations with the EU. This is a useful reminder on how finding practical ways to cooperate is likely to be more productive for music (and other issues) than rehashing the in versus out debates.
Regius professor of political science, University of Essex
Delighted to see so many EU flags at the Last Night of the Proms. At the 2021 Labour party annual conference, all EU flags were confiscated by security. Fortunately, mine was deep inside a pocket, ready to be unfurled at the end of the leader’s closing speech. A warning to this year’s delegates: keep EU flags out of sight while entering the conference centre.
It is amusing to see so many anti-woke campaigners rushing to defend Proms “traditions”. Don’t they realise that Jerusalem is one of the most revolutionary hymns in the English hymnbook? All that talk of dark satanic mills is surely the very thing they seek to attack!
Stuart A Raymond
Well done, Last Night of the Proms novice Tim Jonze, for volunteering to attend the event this year (‘A more hopeful kind of patriotism’: a first-timer goes to the Last Night of the Proms, theguardian.com, 11 September). But the fact that he had thought the Last Night was “a bunch of toffs in dinner jackets braying about empire, a kind of musical Bullingdon Club” shows that even the most liberal and enlightened among us can be prejudiced. Another common prejudice is that the Proms and classical music in general, is elitist and beyond the reach of ordinary people. I paid £22 for a superb seat overlooking the orchestra to see Elgar’s violin concerto. The cheapest ticket for Diana Ross in October is more than £100.