• John Harle
  • City Solstice: a song for London Bridge (2009)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by The City of London Corporation for The City of London Festival 2009, and is dedicated, with thanks, to Ian Ritchie

  • organ
  • SATB
  • treble, alto, soprano saxophone
  • 18 min
  • Tom Pickard

Programme Note

City Solstice celebrates the 800th anniversary of the construction of various bridges on
the site of the current London Bridge. The difficulty of erecting sturdy constructions on
this bend in the Thames, where the currents are particularly strong, has led to a rich seam
of stories about the bridges, passed on through history, myth and folklore.

What are thought to be the original words of 'London Bridge is falling down' carry much
of the references to materials used in building the original bridges - wood and stone,
gravel and stone, and then later, iron and steel. The lines my fair lady, dance over my lady
lea (or lee ) and with a gay lady , are thought to refer to Matilda of Scotland (c.1080-
1118), consort of Henry I, and who was responsible for building the series of bridges that
carried the London to Colchester road across the River Lea.

King (Saint) Olaf II of Norway figures prominently in the destruction of the bridge after
its occupation by the Danes around 1013. Coming to the assistance of Aethelred, Olaf
is thought to have pulled the bridge down into the Thames, along with its occupying
Danes, rather than fight on the bridge itself. There is a line in the Norse saga The
Heimskringla that refers to London Bridge being broken down.