Sir Edward Elgar was born in Lower Broadheath (just outside Worcester), England in 1857. He is a well-known composer in England, but there are two primary pieces of music that have really experienced wide-spread popularity. One is his Enigma Variations, and the other is Pomp and Circumstance.
Pomp and Circumstance is actually a collection of six marches. It is the first march that is extremely well-known. It's so popular that often you will see recordings that just label it "Pomp and Circumstance", when actually, it's just the first march (sometimes just the "Trio" portion of the first march).
The title is taken from Othello by William Shakespeare. There is a line in Act III Scene 3 that reads "The royal banner, and all quality, pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war". The concept of "pomp and circumstance" is to distinguish the two portions of war. One is the majestic grandeur of a commanding army ("pomp"), but the other is the tense panic and disarray of actual battle ("circumstance"). In this first march, Elgar shows us first the "circumstance" and then the majestic "pomp".
Elgar wrote Pomp and Circumstance in 1901, and dedicated it to a friend of his, Alfred E. Rodewald, who was also the conductor of the Liverpool Orchestral Society. It would be Rodewald who would first perform these marches in October of 1901.
As I mentioned, it starts with the "circumstance". In fact, when I first started seeking out recordings of this piece, it always sounded like they started in the middle of the piece. It turns out that this is simply the way the piece was written, and it certainly gives the listener the feeling of being mixed up in the middle of something.
Most people know this piece by the portion called the "Trio" (which would be the "pomp" portion). This tune would later be used in a patriotic song called "Land of Hope and Glory". In 1905, the Professor of Music at Yale University, Samuel Sanford, had invited Elgar to attend Yale's commencement (graduation). To honor Elgar, Professor Sanford made certain to play the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 for the proceedings. Since then, this piece is played at almost every graduation of any kind in the United States. In fact, some simply know it as "The Graduation March".
I'm pretty sure my first introduction to this piece came from Sesame Street. There was a vignette called "And now, the octopus!" This just showed a live octopus moving in water. In the background, you heard the Trio from Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 played on an organ. I remembered thinking that it was neat piece when I was very young. I also remember my mother explaining that this music was played at her graduation.
I would later come across arrangements by Walter Carlos. I would get my first recording of the piece while I served on my mission (the Weekend Marches recording referenced in earlier months). I think I first played the Trio when I was 15, but I would play it many more times during High School graduations (including my own).
I have never played the full march (I've just played the Trio portion), but that would be fun.
So here it is! This is the full Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D by Edward Elgar. Enjoy!