David Cameron was criticised last week for attributing Rule Britannia to Edward Elgar rather than Thomas Arne during an appearance on the David Letterman show. But it could have been worse - he would not have been completely wrong to have attributed the patriotic song to Richard Wagner. The poster above announces a 1838 concert in Riga conducted by Wagner which included the composer’s own Rule Britannia Overture. (Note that the Riga concert promoters would also have failed the UK citizenship test - they misspelt 'Britannia'.) Wagner had composed the overture in Königsberg a year earlier and sent the score to the Philharmonic Society in London as a calling card. But it was rejected and sent back with the return postage unpaid – to find out why listen here. London may have quite rightly dismissed the overture in 1837, but times have changed, and, although Britain no longer rules the waves, post-Olympic triumphalism is rife. A Barenboim Ring at the 2013 BBC Proms to celebrate the Wagner bicentenary is rumoured. But it would not be a surprise to also find his Rule Britannia Overture as part of the the Proms last night excesses, paired perhaps with that other example of patriotic opportunism from fellow centenary celebrant Benjamin Britten, An American Overture. Elsewhere, another composer takes a more informed view of ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’.
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