Andrew Lloyd Webber has suggested his collaborator Sir Tim Rice could “fix the offending couplet” in Rule, Britannia! as the row over the Last Night Of The Proms rumbled on.
New, orchestral versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory will be performed on the final night of the Proms this year, but Lord Lloyd-Webber said the anthem will sound “ordinary at best” without lyrics.
There will be no live audience to sing along and wave flags at the September 12 concert because of coronavirus restrictions.
The outgoing director-general of the BBC, Lord Tony Hall, has said the decision to remove the lyrics was a “creative” one, but confirmed that the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial history had been discussed.
The BBC has also confirmed that the traditional anthems will be sung at next year’s Last Night of the Proms.
— BBC Proms (@bbcproms) August 25, 2020
Some of the lyrics deemed controversial in the songs include the Rule, Britannia! lines: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”, and: “The nations, not so blest as thee / Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall/ While thou shalt flourish great and free: The dread and envy of them all.”
Land Of Hope And Glory, which was composed by Edward Elgar, also has colonialist lyrics, including: “By freedom gained, by truth maintained/ Thine Empire shall be strong”; and: “God, who made thee mighty/ Make thee mightier yet!”
In a letter to The Times, Lord Lloyd-Webber said: “Sir, Rule, Britannia! is one of those melodies that is made by a lyric.
“Played by an orchestra on its own the chorus will sound ordinary at best.
“There are some great British lyricists around who could fix the offending couplet.
“In the 50th anniversary year of Jesus Christ Superstar, the BBC should send for Tim Rice.”
A representative for the composer confirmed to the PA news agency that he had written the letter.
The debate over the inclusion of the songs has become a political one after Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an intervention on the issue and called for an end to “self-recrimination and wetness”.
Former chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins MP, wrote on his website: “There has been a suggestion that this is because some people regard the performance of these songs as out-dated and even that some of the words are offensive.
Rule Britannia has been performed and enjoyed for 280 years, invoking confidence in the future and a sense of shared & common purpose. These are qualities that are needed for all times, and particularly our own https://t.co/QLBPusXjbB
— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) August 26, 2020
“People are of course entitled to their opinion, but so too are the millions of people who have enjoyed these performances over the years.
“Great words and music that become part of our national culture, based on the significance people have attached to them over many years, often centuries, should not be lightly discarded.”
In a letter to The Times on Tuesday, David Brice, a commodore in the Royal Navy, wrote: “Any attempt to remove the right to sing Rule, Britannia! on the Last Night of the Proms seems at variance with historical truth.
“Between 1807 and 1869 the Royal Navy conducted a very difficult maritime campaign against the Atlantic slave trade; it was an act of national intent.
“Without Britannia ruling the waves, this successful campaign could not have been attempted.”
The BBC has said there have been “unjustified personal attacks” on social media on Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, who will be at the helm of the Last Night this year.
“Decisions about the Proms are made by the BBC, in consultation with all artists involved,” it said.
“The Proms 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,” it said.
“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.”
Two recordings of Land Of Hope And Glory by Dame Vera Lynn reached number one and number two respectively in the iTunes singles chart on Wednesday, following a campaign by Laurence Fox.
On Tuesday, the actor wrote on Twitter: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could all come together to get Dame Vera Lynn’s version of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ number one in the charts?
“Would the @BBC then have to play it? What a beautiful day that would be. Please share widely.”
– The BBC Proms begin on Friday August 28 and run until September 12.