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Strauss, Elgar and Parry make great team on any pitch

A letter in The Times caught my eye. The retirement of England's cricket captain, Andrew Strauss, had prompted Ed Welch from Devon, clearly a fan not only of England's national game, but also of music, to draw some conclusions. "With Elgar playing for South Africa," he wrote, "and Parry for Lancashire, is it any wonder that Strauss has quit cricket?"

It's always been thought of as a thinking man's game, but this connection with the three composers was novel.

Johann Strauss was the most famous member of a family whose huge impact on popular entertainment was such that the young cricketer didn't have to make a name for himself a century-and-a-half later.

While the original Johann Strauss is best remembered for his Radetzky March, he was really the man who set new standards for dance music in the first half of the 18th Century, and laid the foundations for a dynasty headed by his son and namesake "The Waltz King".

Other music may be more highly regarded, more respected in its complexity, but the melodies of Johann Strauss II have reached further into the public consciousness than most.

From his Blue Danube to The Tales from the Vienna Woods, through a host of polkas and marches as well, Strauss made an indelible mark. There was light opera too, a favourite Die Fledermaus (The Bat), which wraps gorgeous tunes around the tale of a young man who enjoyed himself too much at a fancy dress party, and ended up making his way home the following morning still dressed as a bat.

The South African batsman Dean Elgar's link to music stretches right into the heartland of English cricket.

Edward Elgar came from Worcestershire, and though he'd now rank as the most quintessentially English of composers he had to battle to make himself heard. A provincial and a Roman Catholic, he had more than a few hurdles to overcome in Victorian Britain.

He announced his arrival with his original and daring Enigma Variations and, building steadily, claimed his place in the pantheon with his Pomp and Circumstance marches that delivered that signature tune of Middle England, Land of Hope and Glory.

The man who drew the letter-writer's reference to the Lancashire bowler Stephen Parry was Elgar's polar opposite. Hubert Parry most definitely came from the right side of the tracks.

He went to Eton, his father was a director of the East India Company, and his great-uncle had been admiral of the Fleet. Parry is remembered as much for his influence as a teacher -- he was director of the Royal College of Music and Professor of Music at Oxford -- and it's rare enough to find him on a concert hall bill.

But one of the great choruses will make sure that, whatever about his name, what Hubert Parry wrote will always be prominent. His Jerusalem is instantly recognisable and another great favourite.

Whatever about being side by side on the cricket pitch, Strauss, Elgar and Parry really do belong together when the pleasure is music.

RTÉ lyric fm features The Hamilton Scores from 9.30 each Saturday morning, and George Hamilton's Full Score on Sunday afternoons at 3.00.


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