Video: Video Finds: Music — Nimrod |
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Video Finds: Music — Nimrod

At the handover of Hong Kong to the mainland Chinese in 1997, the music for the British share of the ceremony was personally chosen by the last governor of the colony, Chris Patten. Now Lord Patten, he should congratulate himself that his choice of music was one of the many things he did well. The key piece in the programme was Elgar’s tone poem Nimrod, which lasts only a few minutes but does a spell-binding job of projecting the idea of eternity as the frail individual human life dissolves into history. As a result of this fatalistic dignity, the piece has had a deep influence on modern soundtrack music which wishes to evoke the same emotions while avoiding obvious sentimentality: the theme music of Band of Brothers is perhaps the best example. Michael Kamen wrote a meltingly beautiful theme, but he would probably have never thought of its gently surging tone if he had not first heard Elgar.

One of the Enigma Variations (it is Variation IX, marked adagio), Nimrod is the anthem of the British army and is invariably played on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph. But its lush textures, although they can be suggested by an army band, unfold at their most opulent from a full orchestra. Many great conductors have made a point of giving the piece their very best, facing the requirement of keeping the tempo up while not missing a nuance. None has done it better than Daniel Barenboim, to be heard here conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in that same year of the handover in Hong Kong. While the piece was played in the colony for the last time as a military anthem, the outgoing Governor sat with his head in his hands. Watching on television, anyone who ever met him was well aware that the hour had been matched by the man.

Listen HERE to Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Elgar’s Nimrod.