As August winds down, there’s no avoiding it… it’s back-to-school time. And since the piece of classical music most associated with education – Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” – is usually played at the end of the school year, here are a few other works that also signal the world of academia.
There’s a metaphorical School For Scandal, in the overture for the play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, which Samuel Barber composed when he was still a student himself… There’s the Haydn symphony that got the nickname “The Schoolmaster” for a wagging figure motif in the second movement. One that keeps showing up is the tune that Johannes Brahms used to give the big finish to his Academic Festival Overture – A tune called “De Brevitate Vitae” (On the Shortness of Life) that’s been used as an anthem of sorts at all sorts of colleges around the world. It’s better known by its opening lyrics: Gaudeamus igitur / Iuvenes dum sumus. (Let us rejoice, therefore / While we are young) The ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ or ‘carpe diem’ message is often accompanied by the raising of a toast of beer.
And here’s the complete overture, with that theme beginning with a cymbal crash at 9:11: