The art of the march
Why are marches the poor relation of classical music? Writing my earlier post about the cuts at the BBC World Service reminded me that during my time at Bush House the march Lilliburlero was used as the World Service identity signal. The tune of Lilliburlero (also spelt Lillibullero) is usually attributed to Henry Purcell but probably orginated as an Irish folk melody. Lilliburlero is one of the marches on the LP seen above which was recorded in 1967 for the World Record Club division of EMI by Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Other marches on it include John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes and Liberty Bell, the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Eric Coates' Dam Busters. For reasons that totally escape me it appears the only CD transfer was as a Sony release in 1999. Despite the unlikely repertoire this disc is prized by Boult afficionados for its superb performances and sound and is well overdue for re-release. The unlikely combination of Sir Adrian and a black lace bra features here.
* Fact is stranger than fiction - the BBC's recently launched Persian TV service uses a re-mix of Lilliburlero. Listen to it here.
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I was at a school run by the Presbyterian Church in Australia which embraced kilts and other Scottish things. Every Friday in our assembly we sang in unison from a school song book which included Bonny Dundee, Ho Ro my Nut Brown Maiden - and Lilliburlero. As far as I remember we were never taught anything about the history of the songs, and I later wondered why we had been given what seemed to be a Jacobite song to sing.
Later, before satellite broadcasting and the internet, sunspots permitting, I would listen to the BBC World Service news at thirteen hours Greenwich Mean Time. The time signal was preceded by the orchestral version of Lilliburlero mentioned here, heard with all the fading, wow and flutter of shortwave wireless. I wondered if the BBC had learned of the Glorious Revolution.
Until today I never looked for answers to my questions. I find that, according to the Wikipedia, the original song was a satire, and that when we sang "...that we shall have no Protestant heir.." we were actually holding the followers of James II up to ridicule. There seem to be many versions of the words and most of those on the internet substitute "dat" for "that" but I don't think our school version was in a comic dialect. But I have forgotten most of the words we sang and I no longer have a school song book.
The Wikipedia entry also gives an answer to my question about the BBC:
" The engineers who selected it were unaware of its origins, though a BBC World Service history states that the choice of interval theme at the time was that of "the transmission engineers who found it particularly audible through short wave mush, and anyway [the BBC] knew it as a tune for the old English song "There was an old woman tossed up in a blanket, 20 times as high as the moon".