Fantasia on British Sea Songs is a medley rich in nostalgia and patriotic spirit arranged by Sir Henry Wood in 1905 to mark the centenary of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Wood’s work follows the course of the battle from the point of view of a British sailor starting with the call to arms, progressing through the death of a comrade, thoughts of home, and ending with a victorious return and the assertion that Britain will continue to ‘rule the waves’.
For many years it was a permanent fixture at the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms concert, although in more recent times its inclusion has been more sporadic. Increasingly, Welsh, Scottish and Irish substitutions have been also been made. What remains absolutely certain is that whenever it is played crowd participation is customary. Mock tears, stamping feet, hooters, clapping, humming, whistling and singing are all very much part of the tradition.
Originally Wood’s work was scored for an enormous orchestra including additional offstage musicians. Here, Wood’s creation has been ‘downsized’ and includes the seven sections most often played at the Proms, with further optional cuts. The music begins with The Saucy Arethusa, followed in turn by Tom Bowling, Jack’s The Lad (Hornpipe), Farewell and Adieu, Ye Spanish Ladies, (an optional clarinet cadenza), Home, Sweet Home, See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes and, of course, all rounded off with Rule, Britannia!.