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Wordless performances of Rule, Britannia and Land Of Hope And Glory to be included in Last Night Of The Proms

By | Published on Tuesday 25 August 2020

Royal Albert Hall

‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ will feature in this year’s Last Night Of The Proms concert next month, the BBC has confirmed, despite calls for them to be removed from the proceedings in the context of the Black Lives Matter debate. However, in a compromise no one was looking for, they will be performed instrumentally, without their controversial lyrics.

The two songs will also be moved up the programme slightly, so that they will not form part of the traditional grand finale to the event. ‘Rule, Britannia’, for example, will form the closing section of a medley of “British Sea Songs”. A performance of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ will then play ahead of the closing pieces, ‘Jerusalem’ and the national anthem.

In a statement, the BBC said that the changes “will reinvent the Last Night in this extraordinary year so that it respects the traditions and spirit of the event whilst adapting to very different circumstances at this moment in time”.

Obviously, playing the songs instrumentally doesn’t stop people doing the traditional flag waving and singing along. Although they will have to do so in the privacy of their own homes this year, as the event – like the whole 2020 Proms programme – will take place without an audience for COVIDy reasons.

“With much reduced musical forces and no live audience, the Proms will curate a concert that includes familiar, patriotic elements such as ‘Jerusalem’ and the national anthem, and bring in new moments capturing the mood of this unique time, including ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, presenting a poignant and inclusive event for 2020”, said the Beeb.

As noted, the controversy around ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ does relate to their respective lyrics, which are relics of the British Empire. Both talk up Britain’s imperial power, while ‘Rule, Britannia’ refers to countries invaded by the British as “haughty tyrants” and makes reference to slavery.

Both songs were dropped entirely from the 2001 Last Night concert in the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, which had happened just days earlier. ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ was reinstated the following year, while ‘Rule, Britannia’ did not return to the programme until 2008.

This year’s audience-free BBC Proms series began last month, with the Last Night Of The Proms show scheduled to take place at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 12 Sep.