Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory sung at Last Night of the Proms

12 September 2020, 23:14 | Updated: 12 September 2020, 23:21

Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory were sung at the Last Night of the Proms despite the row
Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory were sung at the Last Night of the Proms despite the row. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory have been sung during the Last Night of the Proms following weeks of controversy over the event.

The BBC had previously planned to perform the two traditional songs without their lyrics, before U-turning following a heated debate about its decision.

A reduced orchestra of 65, instead of the usual 300, performed live at the Royal Albert Hall with the singers placed in the stalls to ensure social distancing.

However, the songs were not enjoyed by a live audience inside the iconic venue due to coronavirus restrictions.

The two pieces sparked controversy last month during a row over their perceived ties to imperialism.

Some of the lyrics considered contentious 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."

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During the debate, principal guest conductor Dalia Stasevska spoke out to say she played no role in the decision to strip the songs of their words.

Musicians, media industry figures and Prime Minister Boris Johnson all spoke out amid the row in the run-up to the Last Night.

The BBC Proms later said: "Both pieces will now include a select group of BBC singers. This means the words will be sung in the hall, and as we have always made clear, audiences will be free to sing along at home.

"While it can't be a full choir, and we are unable to have audiences in the hall, we are doing everything possible to make it special and want a Last Night truly to remember.

"We hope everyone will welcome this solution. We think the night itself will be a very special moment for the country - and one that is much needed after a difficult period for everyone."

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The U-turn came after director-general Lord Hall was succeeded in the role by Tim Davie, the former chief executive of commercial arm BBC Studios.

On Saturday, South African soprano Golda Schultz performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Ms Stasevska.

Following Lisa Batiashvili's decision to pull out due to illness, violinist Nicola Benedetti stepped in to perform during The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams.

Introducing the show, host Katie Derham said: "Our orchestra, singers and some very special guests are standing by for an evening of classical treats, show songs and all your traditional favourites."

The show was screened in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea to a socially distanced audience of hundreds.