December 5, 2013
London is featured in some of the greatest music ever created. Here’s a tribute to a city whose musical history is nonpareil.
- Cries of London I & II by Orlando Gibbons. The Theatre of Voices.
There is more than one song imitating the musical cries of London’s street salespeople. This is a 17th-century version that sounds remarkably real.
- “Who Will Buy?” from the musical Oliver by Lionel Bart. Movie soundrack.
A more artsy version of the street cries of London, leading to a great production number in the musical version of Charles Dickens’s classic tale of haves and have nots.
- Cockaigne Overture (In London Town) by Sir Edward Elgar. London Symphony, Jeffrey Tate, conductor.
Elgar in a humorous mood: It begins with a bustling march representing Londoners in their commercial activities, but then you get a series of vignettes, including the famous bells of London. All the themes come together in an optimistic and stirring finale.
- “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” by Manning Sherwin and Eric Maschwitz. Glenn Miller Band on The Essential Glenn Miller
This romantic song about lovers in a particularly posh part of London (Mayfair) became one of the iconic songs of World War II, so much so that on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, Petula Clark sang it live in London to an audience of veterans and broadcast over BBC.
- “Lento-Allegro risoluto” (movement I) from A London Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Terse and brilliant, this 1914 work remains Vaughan Williams’ most popular symphony. After the quiet morning opening, you hear the Westminster chimes in the harp, and then the striding, brassy allegro theme comes in, with the same humorous optimism evident in Elgar’s overture.
- “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell. Performed by Sinead O’Connor.
The 1960s brought folk music showing a more inclusive vision and a consciousness of social issues such as poverty that hadn’t been highlighted in popular song before.
- “London Calling” by The Clash. From the album London Calling
The punk anthem that became the anthem of youth and artists in the 1980s. They can’t wait to declare that “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.” It’s contemporary London, to a significant extent — nontraditional, multicultural, intentionally rough-edged and unsentimental.
- “Hometown Glory” by Adele. From the album Hometown Glory.
A breakthrough for the 19-year-old artist in 2007. Wonderful, optimistic anthem, with maybe a touch of The Clash in the lyrics of the refrain.
- “Allegro spiritoso” (movement IV) from Haydn, Symphony No. 104.
Back to the 18th Century for a “spiritoso” finale. Actually there 12 London symphonies by Haydn, but this is the one that got the moniker. Just as well: It’s incredibly forward-looking and endlessly inventive, like London itself.
Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.