Caroline Alice Roberts, Music and a Baby
“ My darling Edu…”
While at Spetchley the schoolboy Elgar had become a good pianist and violinist, playing alongside his father in local orchestras and music groups: it was a sound musical education that, coupled with his highly developed music reading skills, was bringing forth a unique composing voice — until Helen Weaver fled to New Zealand.
For a while, Elgar was unable to even think about music.
Inevitably music began to flow, with Elgar using the loss of Helen as a means of bringing to the surface the deep emotions of their love — bordering on despair at times — as an artistic device, in the same, but less macabre way, that Dante Gabriel Rossetti had used the memory of his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, to fuel his art and poetry.
But Elgar knew he had to get himself out of this rut of lost love. But what to do? And more importantly what to do for a living?
There was no position for him in the family music shop, and it probably wouldn’t have suited his temperament any way. But music had undeniably become his driving force, with an ever increasing number of small compositions (with one performed in London) under his belt, as well as arranging and conducting work for local orchestras — including a ‘band’ he’d assembled at a local lunatic asylum.
But it was probably his father who suggested he promote himself as a violin soloist, available at two guineas a time. He had to earn money.
And he proved to be very popular, playing for various clubs, charities, and private parties, enjoying the attention of the many young women who crowded round him at the end each concert, all wanting to learn to play the violin or the piano.
“ You play sublimely, Edward.”
“ Dear Edward, you really must teach me to play…”
“ The violin?”
“ Yes, the violin, my mother will insist upon it.”
How could he resist?
A much happier Edward Elgar then branched out and started giving music lessons to the upper middle-class daughters of upper middle-class families, and as Simon Mundy writes:
“ His favourites were the Gedge sisters (who prompted an Allegretto for violin and piano based on the notes of their name), the Acworths, and Hilda and Isabel Fitton. An older friend of the Fitton family, Caroline Roberts, came to his teaching room in Malvern on October 6th 1886, having seen his advertisement in the paper. After the old coachman had driven her to Malvern for two or three months, he was heard to say that he thought there was more in it than music.”
There certainly was more in it, and on the 26th January 1889, Edward proposed to Caroline, and was accepted. On the 8th May that year, the couple, with Edward’s parents, travelled to the splendidly ornate Brompton Oratory in London for their midday wedding.
The highly educated and well read Caroline Alice Roberts, who was nine years older than Elgar, was no great beauty when the couple married, and quite short in comparison to the long legged Elgar. But their love and commitment to each other was obvious from the very start, with Caroline’s somewhat stern, yet elegant attractiveness growing day by day, month by month, with Elgar metamorphosing into a well dressed, tweed jacketed, country gentleman almost overnight.
For Elgar, marrying Caroline Alice Roberts, was the best decision he ever made. For Caroline it brought forth problems, via her family, of class and status. It was considered by her stuck-up uncles and aunts that Elgar, the son of a shop keeper, was no match for the daughter of a high ranking Indian Army officer. They hinted that if she married Elgar her inheritance might be put at risk.
Caroline, as the daughter of that high ranking Indian Army Officer was having none of it, and set out to protect and promote the musical genius of her darling ‘Edu’ .
Once married, Mrs Caroline Alice Elgar took control, organising a honeymoon in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, a very fashionable resort at the time due to the proximity of Queen Victoria’s island home, Osborne House.
As Simon Mundy writes, the newly weds were:
“ …both determined that marriage should herald a new start, leaving behind the drudgery of provincial teaching and, in Alice’s case, housecalls with her mother. She had a certain amount of money of her own which made it possible to set up house in London, for a few months, at first in fountain Road, Upper Norwood in the southern suburbs, usefully near the Crystal Palace and Manns’ concerts, to which they had season tickets.”
Both Edward and Alice (she would now use her middle name in preference to Caroline), were now determined to enjoy London life, and squeeze in as many concerts as possible, including Verdi’s Otello at the Lyceum, during its first London run, and, for Edward alone, tons of Wagner at Covent Gardner, at half a crown (2/6) a time, plus the annual Hans Richter concerts at the St James’s Hall. Richter and Elgar would become musically entwined not so far in the future. But one of the high points for the Elgars in those early months in London was the Crystal Palace Dog Show, where Edward could relax in the company of dogs, which he much preferred to humans…with the exception of Alice of course.
It was also a time of some optimism in relation to Edward’s music, with the fledgling composer knocking on the doors of music publisher offering pieces for sale, with his opening sales pitch that of having a piece, Sevillana, performed at one of Sir August Manns concerts at the Crystal Palace, with other pieces now under consideration. I’m sure Alice would have given him a certain amount of coaching before he set off for the classical music version of Tin Pan Alley:
“ Now listen to me, Edward, you are going to be dealing with unscrupulous men who will want to pay you as little as possible for your work. Do not accept their first offer…”
“ I shall be over the moon if they make me an offer at all, my dear.”
“ Whatever you do do not show pleasure if they make you an offer. Be circumspect and thoughtful, do not be thankful. Do you understand?”
“ Yes, my dear.”
“ I had the same problems when trying to sell my first novel. Oh, none of this writing of letters pretending to be a man just to get published. No, I used to walk straight into a publisher’s office and tell him my novel could make him, and me, a great deal of money.”
“ I can see you now my dear. I’d have run a mile. I don’t suppose you’d like to try and sell my music…?”
“ No, Edward, I would not. You must do this. Be brave, be strong…”
“ I’ve never been very brave you know.”
“ You have me now, my sweet, darling Edu, you have me.”
“ Should I walk or take the omnibus?”
“ A walk will do you good.”
“ The brown shoes I think.”
And Elgar did sell quite a few pieces of music that morning, including a part song to Novello’s called My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land. Osborn and Tuckwood took another song and twelve organ pieces, with Schotts taking Liebesgruss, which Elgar had re-titled Salut d’ Amour, in honour of his engagement to Alice.
All of the pieces were sold outright, cash in hand, no copyright. He and Alice needed the money, and £5 a piece wasn’t bad going. It also meant Alice needn’t sell anymore of her jewellery, at least not for a while.
Salut d’ Amore made Schott’s a huge amount of money.
One evening, after supper, with more songs having been sold that day, and as Edward lit a pipe, Alice told him she was pregnant.
Just before dawn on Thursday the 14th of August, 1890, Edward Elgar, no doubt prompted by Alice, got out of bed, dressed, and hurried off to fetch the doctor: Alice was in labour.
At 10.15am that morning, Caroline Alice Elgar (neé Roberts) gave birth to a girl, naming her Carice, after her mother, or to be more precise after Edward’s dedication of Salute d’amour to her mother. As Elgar biographer, Jerrold Northrop Moore, has written, Carice, “…would remain the only child of their marriage — except for the music, whose first notable achievement had already preceded her.”
As a newly born Carice was a bit of a handful, with Elgar writing:
“ All is going well here and I have been promoted to nurse my offspring — a fearful joy and fatal to trousers…I would as soon nurse an ‘automatic irrigator’. But it’s a pretty little thing.”
Edward Elgar: A Creative Life — Jerrold Northrop Moore (Oxford 1984); Elgar As I Knew Him — W.H. Reed (Victor Gollance Ltd 1978); An Elgar Companion — Edited by Christopher Redwood (Sequoia Publishing & Moorland Publishing 1982); Elgar Lived Here — Pauline Collett (Thames Publishing 1981); Elgar: An Illustrated Life — Simon Mundy (Omnibus Press 1984); Plotting Gigantic Worx: The Story of Elgar’s Apostles Trilogy- Michael Foster (The Worcestershire Press 1995, 2003); The Cambridge Companion to Elgar — Edited by Daniel Grimley and Julian Rushton (Cambridge University Press 2004); Elgar in Love — Kevin Allen (Published by the Author, 2000); The Elgar-Atkins Friendship — E. Wulston Atkins (David & Charles 1984)…