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Elgar, Edward

Elgar, Edward (1857–1934). Though Elgar was not greatly interested in the revival of English folk-song which gathered pace in his lifetime, his music is soaked in the scenery of his native Worcestershire. He was born at Broadheath, just west of Worcester, where his father kept a music shop, in the shadow of the Malvern hills. Largely self-taught, his early life was spent as a local musician, conducting bands and choirs and teaching the violin. His breakthrough came with the Enigma Variations (1899), commemorating his friends in the area, and heralding a tremendous burst of creative energy until the Great War and the death of his wife Alice. Sea Pictures (1899) were followed by The Dream of Gerontius (1900), the First Symphony (1908), the Violin Concerto (1910), the Second Symphony (1911) and the darker Cello Concerto (1919). Honours were heaped upon him—a knighthood (1904), the Order of Merit (1911), mastership of the king's musick (1924), and a baronetcy (1931). Standing at the end of the great romantic tradition and on the eve of the Great War, his work is shot through with sunset gleams and his favourite marking was nobilmente. His palm-court pieces and the extraordinarily popular ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ marches gave him a reputation at variance with reality. With the appearance of a retired colonel and often accused of jingo patriotism, Elgar was, in fact, a deeply sensitive man, easily hurt, and haunted by ‘the land where corals lie’. Even ‘Enigma’, to the listener a serene theme, Elgar thought expressed ‘the loneliness of the artist’. He is buried in a small catholic cemetery at Little Malvern, overlooking the great plain of the Severn towards Bredon Hill. His statue at Worcester, near the cathedral, surveys a traffic roundabout.

J. A. Cannon

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