Composers Datebook®

The 'Cockaigne' Overture

Composers Datebook - June 20, 2024


On today’s date in 1901, English composer Edward Elgar conducted the first performance of his cheery, upbeat, and slightly rowdy Cockaigne Overture, a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society dedicated to his many friends in British Orchestras.

Now Cockaigne does not refer to the schedule two narcotic, but rather an old nickname for the City of London, originating in a very old poem about a utopian land where rivers flow with wine and houses are made of cake and barley sugar.

Elgar said he wanted to come up with something “cheerful and London-y, stout and steak … honest, healthy, humorous and strong, but not vulgar.”

The new overture proved an instant hit, and critics of the day compared it favorably to the festive prelude to  Act I of  Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger. Elgar made two recordings of the work, conducting the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra in 1926 and the BBC Symphony in 1933.

By chance during that 1933 recording session, as a backup, some takes were cut simultaneously to two separate wax master recording machines from two separate microphones. This enabled engineers many decades later to blend the two simultaneous “takes” into an “accidental stereo” version of the old mono recording.

Music Played in Today's Program

Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Cockaigne Overture; BBC Symphony; Edward Elgar, conductor; 1933 ‘accidental stereo’; Naxos 8.111022

On This Day


  • 1756 - German-Swedish composer Joseph Martin Kraus, in Miltenberg, near Mainz

  • 1819 - German-born French cellist and operetta composer Jacques Offenbach, in Cologne

  • 1931 - Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim, in Larvik


  • 1787 - German-born, London-based composer, gamba virtuoso and concert impresario Carl Friedrich Abel, 63, in London. He was a friend and associate of Johann Christian Bach (the “London” Bach).

  • 1940 - French organ composer Jehan Alain, 29, killed in action at Petits-Puis, near Saumur


  • 1716 - Handel: Concerto Grosso No. 4a, at the King’s Theater in London, performed between the acts of Handel’s opera Amadigi di Gaula (Gregorian date: July 1)

  • 1901 - Elgar: Cockaigne Overture: In London Town, at a London Philharmonic concert

  • 1938 - Jerome Moross: ballet, Frankie and Johnny, by the Page-Stone Ballet at the Great Northern Theater in Chicago. This production was part of the Federal Theater Project.

  • 1947 - Britten: opera Albert Herring, at the Glyndebourne Opera

  • 1952 - Hindemith: opera Cardillac (second version) in Zürich at the Stadttheater

  • 1961 - Paul Creston: Dance Variations for soprano and orchestra, at Lewisohn Stadium by the Stadium Symphony (New York Philharmonic), Pierre Monteux conducting and Roberta Peters the vocal soloist

  • 1962 - Leroy Anderson: Clarinet Candy at a Decca recording session in New York City, with the composer conducting. The four clarinet soloist for this classic recording were Vincent Abato, Herbert Blayman, Roger Hiller and Bernard Portnoy.

  • 1969 - Penderecki: opera The Devils of Loudun, in Hamburg at the Staatsoper


  • 1948 - At the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, Edward Wallerstein conducts the first public demonstration of the revolutionary Columbia Records 33-rpm long-playing (LP) discs for over fifty members of the press.

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®