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English Language and History

The brief stories below are taken from history, myth or fiction. Each one is accompanied by games and exercises in essential grammar and free composition, based on old school textbooks.

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St Erkenwald, Light of London
Music: Franz Joseph Haydn
The seventh-century Bishop of London helped kings and clergy to shine Christian light into the darkness of mere religion.

ERKENWALD was born into a family of royal blood in the Kingdom of Lindsey around 630, and used his inheritance to found a monastery for himself in Chertsey near London, and another for his sister Ethelburga in Barking.

In 674, King Sebbi of Essex was baptised, and Erkenwald’s part in this, together with the high reputation of his two monastic communities, led Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, to appoint Erkenwald as Bishop of London in 675.

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Featured Topic
Tagged ‘Music and Musicians’ (32 posts)
page 1
1 The Free-Wheeler
By Ethel Smyth
(1858-1944)
Composer Ethel Smyth buys a new-fangled ladies’ bicycle, and scandalises the neighbours.
2 Ode to (English) Joy
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was commissioned by a fiercely independent Britain, and Beethoven was excited to oblige.
3 Anne Ford Thicknesse
A young English girl in Dr Johnson’s London struggles to share her gift for music.
4 Beethoven’s First
Everyone wanted to know who Beethoven’s favourite composer was.
5 ‘My English Joy’
By Sir William Sterndale Bennett
(1816-1875)
In 1837 William Sterndale Bennett, then regarded as England’s most exciting young composer, made history in quite another... field.
6 Diplomatic Immunity
By Sir James Melville
(1535–1617)
Sir James Melville eavesdrops on Queen Elizabeth I’s music practice, and incurs Her Majesty’s displeasure.
page 2
7 Sir William Sterndale Bennett
Acclaimed in Germany as a composer on a par with Mendelssohn himself, Bennett sacrificed his life and talents for music in Britain.
8 Francesco Geminiani
The most brilliant violinist of his generation, whose finely-crafted compositions showed off bravura and spoke tenderness.
9 Benno Moiseiwitsch
One of the twentieth century’s greatest pianists, who put himself and his art at the service of his adopted country.
10 Muzio Clementi
From performance and composition to instrument-making, Clementi left his mark on British and European classical music.
11 The Siren ‘Greatness’
In encouraging women into music, Alice Mary Smith thought promises of ‘greatness’ counterproductive.
12 ‘Risoluto’
Music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
(1833-1897)
Despite setback after setback, Stanford was determined to hear his music played in public.
page 3
13 Caedmon Learns to Sing
Based on an account by Saint Bede of Jarrow
(672-735)
A shy and unmusical stable-hand suddenly began to sing wise and moving hymns.
14 ‘God Save the King!’
The simple melody of the United Kingdom’s national anthem has stirred the souls of some great composers.
15 Charles Avison
Music by Charles Avison
(1709-1770)
The most important English-born composer of Handel’s day, known for his tuneful music and very busy diary.
16 Elias Parish Alvars
Music by Elias Parish Alvars
(1808-1849)
Eli Parish of Teignmouth in Devon became one of Europe’s most celebrated virtuosos.
17 St John of Damascus
John’s enduring influence is evident today in the rich sights and sounds of Christian liturgy.
18 John Playford
Music by John Playford
(1623-1686)
In England’s brief but dismal experiment as a Republic, Playford saved traditional English dance music from destruction.
page 4
19 Lessons in British values for a Future King
Music by Thomas Arne
(1710-1778)
‘Rule Britannia’ was a discreet way of telling a German prince what was expected of a British King.
20 The Story of ‘Messiah’
Music by George Frideric Handel
(1685-1759)
The first thing George Frideric Handel’s oratorio ‘Messiah’ did was to set a hundred and forty-two prisoners free.
21 The Story of Handel’s ‘Water Music’
Handel’s German boss fired the composer for spending all his time in London. When they met again, it was... rather awkward.
22 The Seikilos Epitaph
Lost for seventeen centuries, caught up in a war, and used as a pedestal for a plant pot, this is the world’s oldest surviving song.
23 Brahms: Three Intermezzi Op. 117
A Scottish widow’s lullaby for her fatherless child inspired his music, but Brahms’s message struck closer to home.
24 A Touch of Silk
Music by John Field
(1782-1837)
A Dubliner with a roving eye and a gift for melody, John Field challenged some of Europe’s finest pianists to demand more of themselves and their music.
page 5
25 Zadok the Priest
Music by George Frideric Handel
(1685-1759)
Handel’s anthem sets to glorious music words sung at English coronations for over a thousand years.
26 The Harmonious Blacksmith
Music by George Frideric Handel
(1685-1759)
Handel called it ‘Air and Variations’, but by Charles Dickens’s day everyone knew it as ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’.
27 ‘Nimrod’
Music by Edward Elgar
(1857-1934)
Edward Elgar suffered from depression, and ‘Nimrod’ is his token of thanks to the true friend who supported him through it.
28 Fiddler Tam
Music by
Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kellie
An 18th century bon viveur and virtuoso violinist, Thomas Erskine is currently being ‘rediscovered’ by the classical music industry.
29 The ‘Raindrop’ Prelude
By Georges Sand
(1804-1876)
As the storm raged around him, raindrops fell like music on the pianist’s heart.
30 Ignaz Moscheles
Music by Ignaz Moscheles
(1794-1870)
Moscheles taught his adopted country how to write enchanting music for decades to come.
page 6
31 How St Benedict Biscop brought Byzantium to Britain
By Saint Bede of Jarrow
(672-735)
The chapel of Bede’s monastery in Sunderland was full of the colours and sounds of the far-off Mediterranean world.
32 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Music by Samuel Coleridge Taylor
(1875-1912)
A gifted composer of classical music in the romantic tradition, admired by Stanford, Elgar, and Sullivan.
which is ‘English Style’ ?

Word Play: Subject and Object

Use each of the words below as either the subject or the object of a verb.

Living. Hand. Escape.

By Ethel Smyth
(1858-1944)
Composer Ethel Smyth buys a new-fangled ladies’ bicycle, and scandalises the neighbours.
By Lewis Carroll
(1832-1898)
Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, and it turns out that she has been using words wrong all her life.
The unsung surveyor from Cheshire, who built railways and made friends across the world.
By William Ewart Gladstone
(1808-1898)
William Gladstone warns voters not to leave foreign policy in the hands of interventionist politicians.
Cut
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Polyword ‘Arch’
Make as many words as you can with the letters below. All your words must be at least four letters long, and must also include the highlighted letter. What’s the nine-letter word?

SEE how many words you can make using the letters below. All your words must be at least 4 letters long, and must include the letter (change).

We found commonly used words, plus one 9-letter word. Can you do better?

Use each letter only once. But if there are e.g. two As, you can used them both.

Don’t count proper nouns such as April, Zeus, or Newcastle (pretty much anything that has to be spelled with a capital letter at the start), or acronyms like HMRC.

Don’t just add -S for plurals or third person singular verbs, e.g. CAT → CATS or SPEAK → SPEAKS.

Note: You can find more Polywords and other games on our Nine Lives puzzle page, and most of our stories are accompanied by games with words, grammar and numbers.

More Puzzles
Suggest opposites for these words, and illustrate them with example sentences.
Find the magic letter that can change three words into three different ones.
Do you know ‘glittering crown’ (6 letters), and ‘dark and gloomy’ (5 letters)?
Do you know ‘cunning’ (3 letters), and ‘Phobos’s primary’ (4 letters)?
Do you know ‘a brilliant solo passage in a concerto’ (7 letters), and ‘e.g. lion, tiger’ (3,3 letters)?
See if you can guess these words letter-by-letter.
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letters game

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