Don Cusic, Winston Churchill’s Love of Music: Churchill Didn’t Have a Tin Ear (Nashville: Brackish Publishing, 2018), 122 pages, $21. Audio links can easily be provided online. Excerpted from a review for the Hillsdale College Churchill Project. For the full review, click here.
Music by Cusic
Cusic’s text traces Churchill’s life and career, tracking every reference the author found to music and song. We range from the marches, ditties and Gilbert & Sullivan Churchill loved to the powerfully inspirational. Which lyrics are presented is purely arbitrary, but once chosen, we get every word. Churchill’s youthful encounters with the ’cello and piano are duly noted. Several authorities attest to the fact that he was himself a terrible if enthusiastic singer (and dancer!). But the chief value of the book is motivational. The author’s ideas and assertions lead readers to search for more information or the songs themselves (see below).
“A Great Hour to Live”
Cusic includes all verses of the three hymns Churchill selected for Sunday services on HMS Prince of Wales, during his meeting with Roosevelt in August 1941. In Their Finest Hour, Churchill wrote: “I chose the hymns myself: ‘For Those in Peril on the Sea’ and ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers.’ We ended with ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past,’ which Macaulay reminds us the Ironsides had chanted as they bore John Hampden’s body to the grave. Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live. Nearly half those who sang were soon to die.” (Japanese aircraft sank the battleship off Singapore four months later.)
Stet Fortuna Domus
Churchill’s visits to his old school, Harrow, are nicely described, and some of the Harrow Songs provided. The author includes both songs with special verses for Churchill. The first was added in 1941 to “Stet Fortuna Domus”. The author explains that “sterner” in line 1 was Churchill’s substitute for “darker.” These were not dark days, he told the boys, but “the greatest days our country has ever lived.” Thus the verse:
Nor less we praise in sterner days
The leader of our nation,
And CHURCHILL’S name shall win acclaim
From each new generation.
For you have power in danger’s hour
Our freedom to defend, Sir,
Though long the fight, we know the right
Will triumph in the end, Sir.
This song is not in Winston Churchill’s Love of Music. Nor can I find an audio link. (Anyone?) The Churchill verse is:
Churchill with flourish of sabre and brush and pen
Rode gallantly forth on his way to be leader of men;
The last of seven who lived on the Hill
Waiting the call to serve the nation,
And nursed by the dreams that still
Their ancient end fulfill—
Of God’s good gifts the faithful dispensation.
The Silver Arrow
The song was composed in 1910, the Churchill verse in 1986. That year HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Harrow School on 24 November 1986. It is not part of this 1928 recording, but the melody is conveyed:
The flame that woke when Churchill spoke
Blazes forth in the darkness still;
We do not forget: they are needed yet—
Loyal spirit and strength and skill.
But today will be heard no wavering word
No cloud of care be seen:
Each heart rejoice, ring out each voice
In gladness, “God save the Queen!”
Two Churchill verses were added to the majestic school song “Forty Years On.” They marked Sir Winston’s 80th and 90th birthdays in 1954 and 1964. Unfortunately, the book omits the 1954 verse, and online versions do not contain either. But listening to the link above, you can quickly catch the melody:
Sixty years on, though in time growing older,
Younger at heart you return to the Hill.
You who in days of defeat ever bolder.
Led us to Victory, serve Britain still.
Still there are bases to guard or beleaguer,
Still must the battle for Freedom be won:
Long may you fight. Sir, who fearless and eager
Look back to-day more than sixty years on.
Blazoned in honour! For each generation
You kindled courage to stand and to stay;
You led our fathers to fight for the nation,
Called “Follow up” and yourself showed the way.
We who were born in the calm after thunder
Cherish our freedom to think and to do;
If in our turn we forgetfully wonder,
Yet we’ll remember we owe it to you.
Harrow students sing Churchill Songs only once per year, the most popular “Songs” program. Being there on that occasion is also a great hour to live.