Edward Elgar — Life and Music: 4th Movement

Froissart, Variations on an Original Theme (The Enigma Variations), The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles, and The Kingdom, and two extraordinary Symphonies. And a death…

Lady Elgar. Image: National Trust

On the 1st of September Elgar’s parents came down to stay and meet their granddaughter: one can imagine Edward handing over the ‘automatic irrigator’ with some relief, with smiles all round as mum and dad made a fuss.

The following morning Edward and his mother, Ann, took Carice to be baptised at their local Roman Catholic church, after which they were joined by Edward’s father for lunch, leaving Alice at home to rest.

Elgar the composer, father and nurse, had been working on a new piece of music called Froissart, and on the 3rd of September he took his father to the London rehearsals of the upcoming Three Choirs Festival — to be held in Worcester Cathedral that year — rehearsals that included a first run through of Froissart, which, by all accounts, went well. For the rest of the rehearsals Elgar played in the orchestra’s first violins. We can only imagine what his proud father must have felt.

A few days later Elgar travelled to Worcester alone, leaving his mother and father in London to look after Alice and the baby.

Edward attended the final rehearsal of Froissart on the 8th of September, before the premier of his overture two days later, which was witnessed by the assistant organist of Worcester Cathedral, Ivor Atkins, who, soon after, became a life long friend of Elgar’s.

As quoted in Northrop Moore’s biography of Elgar, Atkins wrote:

“ Never before had I heard such a wonderful combination of a first-rate Chorus and Orchestra. I was naturally specially interested in Elgar, knowing that he was to produce a new Overture whose very title attracted me, for I had just been reading Froissart’s Chronicles [a history of the Hundred Years war]. Sinclair [the cathedral organist] pointed Elgar out to me. There he was, fiddling among the first violins, with his fine intellectual face, his heavy moustache, his nervous eyes and his beautiful hands.

“ The great moment came, and I watched Elgar’s shy entry on to the platform. From that moment my eyes did not leave him, and I listened to the Overture, hearing it in the exciting way one hears music when among the players [he’d placed himself behind the orchestra]. I heard the surge of the strings, the chatter of the wood wind, the sudden bursts from the horns, the battle call of the trumpets, the awesome beat of the drums and the thrill of cymbal clashes. I was conscious of all these and of the hundred and one other sounds from an orchestra that stir one’s blood and send one’s heart into one’s mouth.

“ But there was something else I was conscious of — I knew that Elgar was the man for me, I knew that I completely understood his music, and that my heart and soul went with it.”

Froissart was received well by the public and the press, with Alice collecting all the reviews and pasting them into albums, a job previously done by Elgar’s mother.

Edward, now joined by Alice and the baby, stayed in Worcester with friends, glowing in the success of the overture, and the pride he and Alice radiated with the reception given to Carice. She no doubt behaved herself in the company of strangers, much to her father’s amusement.

After the birth of Carice Elgar worked hard at new compositions, but it wasn’t until 1899 — at the age of 42 — with the first performance of the Variations on an Original Theme (The Enigma Variations)that his reputation was made. That reputation was to be enhanced over the next two decades by such pieces as The Dream of Gerontius (premiered disastrously in Birmingham Town Hall in 1901, due a lack of rehearsal time), followed by the Apostles, and The Kingdom, plus two ground breaking symphonies, and a music bag full of overtures, concertos, song cycles, sonatas, quintets, quartets, organ pieces, earlier oratorios given a new lease of life, theatre music, and perhaps the finest Cello Concerto ever written, first performed in 1919 (its premier was another disaster due again to a lack of rehearsal time), but is, rightly, now considered a fitting requiem to the fallen of WWI, and as a fitting memorial to Alice, who died of lung cancer in 1920 at the age of 71. Not only had she nurtured Elgar’s career (helping to earn him his Knighthood), but had, in her own right, become a published poet and novelist, with many of her poems set to music by her husband, most notably Fly, Singing Bird, and From The Bavarian Highlands. She was well loved in the world of music. Alice and Edward are buried in the churchyard of a small church part way up the Malvern Hills.

The marriage of Edward and Alice had been one of love and support, but with Alice always in control. Her death left Elgar floundering emotionally which resulted in some ill-judged friendships with women. Only when he acquired his dogs did Elgar seem at peace.

To Be Continued…

Image: staroftheseabooks.com


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)…

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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