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Wagner’s score for Rule, Britannia is now online

The British Library has digitised its Wagner manuscripts and put them online. Among the little-seen treasures are an 1836 Polonia overture, written for defeated nationalists, and a Rule Britannia theme, submitted to the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1837 but turned down for performance. The reason? ‘It is written on a Theme which is here considered common place.’

Someone should give it a world premiere. Proms, anyone?

rule brit

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  1. Wolfgang Marx says:

    There is a recording of these casual pieces with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra out there (accessible on YouTube). “Rule Britannia” comes across like a second-year student’s rather misjudged and pathetic composition exercise; it sounds as if for about half the piece Wagner desperately tries to find a way to end it yet fails to succeed. Maybe one could use it as the starting point of a collection of great composer’s worst pieces?

    • Great composers’ worst pieces ?
      This is not very long and has no singers; it must be one of Wagner’s best !

  2. The Rule Britannia Overture is on a Naxos CD (8.555386), itself a 2001 re-release of an earlier (1992) Marco Polo CD, with the Hong Kong Philharmonic conducted by Varujan Kojian.

  3. Ah! Clearly those were the days when it was commonplace to have a serpent and an ophicleide in the standard orchestra!

    I have a copy of Berlioz’s treatise on instrumentation, he discusses those as quite normal orchestral instruments alongside variations such as the Russian bassoon (related to the serpent) and the alto, bass, and double-bass ophicleide. It has a chapter on “the new instruments”, featuring the saxophones but also the saxhorn, saxotromba, concertina, melodium and the octobass. Whatever happened to the octobass? (did it become a James Bond film?)

    I’d be all for a premiere of this Wagner “Britannia” but with authentic period instrumentation…

    • stanley cohen says:

      When John Eliot Gardner conducted the English premier of Berlioz’ Opus 1 – his Messe Solonelle, composed as an end-of-year exercise when he was still at the Conservatory in Paris with Cherubini as his Principal, the score called for a serpent, which was duly provided in the Westminster Cathedral televised performance, together with an orchestra of contemporary instruments and the Monteverdi Singers – who were contemporary to the 1990s.

    • “Whatever happened to the octobass? (did it become a James Bond film?)”

      No, it’s the result of the chance mating of a cephalopod with a member of the genus micropterus…

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Check out this great Octobass video:

  4. The Polonia Overture was played in Istanbul in October, 2012 by the Istanbul State Symphony.


  5. Martin Locher says:

    Rule Britannia even made its way to Youtube:


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