Build Blog

A potted history of The Proms

Story added 14th Jul 2017

The BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall - Copyright: Chris Christodoulou

Since first delighting London crowds in 1895, The Proms has become synonymous with British summertime.

The eight-week annual feast of classical music traditionally runs every year from mid-July to mid-September, with major events primarily taking place at the Royal Albert Hall.

As the Build Music School look forward to another magical year of Proms performances, here are our fascinating facts about this British institution…

- ‘The Proms’ stands for ‘promenades’ – with the original name for the concerts referencing the Promenaders  (‘Prommers’) attending, who could stand and listen to inspiring music in a relaxed, informal setting.

- The Proms are French. Well, The Proms are at least not a British invention. The concept started in France in the 1830s before moving to Britain shortly afterwards.

- Henry Wood is the man most closely associated with developing the Proms into the international festival of music it is today. Wood directed the first BBC Proms in 1895, continuing to head them up for nearly 50 years until his death in 1944.

- The founding aim of the Proms was to bring ‘serious music’ to the widest possible audience – and it remains a guiding principle of the Proms, with all events broadcast live across the BBC and affordable tickets made available for the majority of events.

- Over 2,500 people attended the very first event in 1895, with popular works by Saint-Saëns, Haydn and Liszt, as well as London premieres of works by Chopin and Bizet.

- The Proms has become increasingly experimental since the turn of the millennium, evolving away from its purely classical roots with electro-dance, rap and grime all adding to the eclectic atmosphere of the Proms over the last decade.

- An inside joke for regular Prom-goers in the Royal Albert Hall is the Arena vs Gallery ‘heave-ho’ tradition. If a piano is wheeled in for a concerto, spectators in the Arena shout "Heave!" as the lid is being lifted, whilst ticketholders in the Gallery respond with a “Ho!”

- One Proms spectator had a night to remember at the 1974 Proms after he bravely stepped in mid-performance to take the place of an unfortunate baritone who collapsed during a rendition of Carmina Burana. Patrick McCarthy, a professional singer who happened to be watching the Prom, boldly joined the choir to complete the performance, and received a well-deserved standing ovation.

- ‘The Mushrooms’ have become an icon of the Royal Albert Hall, but they play a very significant role in maintaining sound quality during concerts. The building used to suffer from an echo effect due to the unusual shape of its ceiling, so in the 1960s fibreglass acoustic diffusers were installed on the ceiling to help improve the atmosphere, creating the ‘mushroom’ effect above the watching audience.

- The Last Night of the Proms has become famous for its resounding renditions of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia but in 1969, the BBC quietly decided to drop the segment. Following a public outcry, the decision was quickly reversed and it remains a highlight of the much-loved closing night of the festival.

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