Elgar, (Sir) Edward (William)

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Elgar, (Sir) Edward (William) (b Broadheath, Worcester, 1857; d Worcester, 1934). Eng. composer and cond. He was the son of a mus.-shop proprietor in Worcester who was also an organist, pf.-tuner, and teacher. He showed an early aptitude for mus., learning the org., vn., and other instr. He hoped, on leaving school at 15, to go to Leipzig Cons. but his father could not afford to send him, so after a brief spell in a solicitor's office, he helped his father in the shop and became his ass. organist at St George's RC Church, Worcester. Soon he was playing the vn. in several local orchs. or chamber groups and became cond. of several. With his brothers and friends he formed a wind quintet, for which he comp. several works. His first comps. had been written during childhood, incl. mus. for a play written and prod. by the Elgar children, The Wand of Youth, which he adapted as 2 orch. suites in 1907–8. In 1877 he went to London for vn. lessons from Pollitzer but abandoned them when he realized he would not become a virtuoso. He played in the 2nd vns. in the 3 Choirs Fest. orch. at Worcester in 1878. The following year he became bandmaster at the county lunatic asylum at Powick where members of the staff played weekly for dances. Elgar made several arrs. of operatic arias for concerts there and also comp. a series of quadrilles. In 1882 he joined the 1st vns. in a Birmingham orch. cond. by W. Stockley, who incl. Elgar's Sérénade mauresque in a concert in 1883. For the next 6 years, until his marriage in 1889, Elgar was in demand locally in many mus. capacities but he was unknown outside the Midlands apart from a perf. of his Sevillana at a Crystal Palace concert in May 1884. After his marriage to a general's daughter in 1889, Elgar gave up his work in Malvern and Worcester and went to London, but met with no success there. He returned to Malvern a year later to resume his teaching and other activities. In the meantime, however, the 1890 3 Choirs Fest. at Worcester had commissioned a work from him, the concert-ov. Froissart. In 1893 he comp. a secular cantata, The Black Knight, which was the first of a series of choral works taken up by the great Midlands choral socs. Its successors were King Olaf (1896), The Light of Life (1896), and Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands (1896). For Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 Elgar comp. an Imperial March which Manns cond. at the Crystal Palace and which the Queen requested should be incl. in the State Concert marking the Jubilee. Its success led to a commission from the Leeds Fest., the result being the large-scale cantata Caractacus (1898). At this time, Elgar was still earning his living as a vn. teacher; his first large-scale London success came in 1899 when Richter cond. the f.p. of the Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), one of Elgar's greatest and best-known works. A few months later Clara Butt sang the Sea Pictures at the Norwich Fest. Commissioned to write a big choral work for the 1900 Birmingham Fest., Elgar, a Catholic, chose to set Newman's poem The Dream of Gerontius. The f.p. was a failure, but the worth of the mus. was recognized and two Düsseldorf perfs. followed, after the 2nd of which Richard Strauss hailed Elgar as the foremost Eng. composer of the day. From that day there developed an Elgar vogue on the Continent, and several conds. such as Weingartner, Strauss, Steinbach, and Busoni incl. his works in their programmes. The neglect of the previous 25 years in Eng. was forgotten (though not by Elgar) overnight as he became the most talked-about composer of the day. From 1901 until 1914 were the years of greatest acclaim for Elgar in his lifetime, and he responded with a succession of splendid works incl. the Cockaigne ov., the oratorios The Apostles and The Kingdom, 2 syms., a vn. conc. (for Kreisler), the Introduction and Allegro for str., the choral ode The Music Makers, and the symphonic study Falstaff. The 1st Sym. (1908) in particular had an astonishing initial success, being perf. 100 times in just over a year in cities as far apart as Manchester, Vienna, St Petersburg, Rome, and Budapest. However, the work which had made him a household name was No.1 of a set of Pomp and Circumstance Marches, f.p. 1901. The splendid tune of the trio section caught the ear of King Edward VII who suggested that it should be set to words. When in 1902 it emerged in the Coronation Ode as Land of Hope and Glory it soon became clear that Elgar had comp. an alternative nat. anthem. Elgar was knighted in 1904 at age 47, and in 1911 became a member of the OM. He visited the USA to cond. his own works and spent several periods in It. From 1905 to 1908 he was Peyton Prof. of Mus., Birmingham Univ. He was appointed cond. of the LSO for 1911–12 and in 1912 moved from Hereford to a large house in Hampstead.

During the 1914–18 war Elgar wrote several patriotic works, including the recitation with orch. Carillon, the symphonic prelude Polonia, and the Binyon settings The Spirit of England. He also wrote incidental mus. for a children's play, The Starlight Express, and a ballet The Sanguine Fan. In 1918–19 he wrote 3 chamber works, a vn. sonata, str. qt., and pf. quintet, and a vc. conc. These were to be his last major works. In 1920 his wife died and for the last 14 years of his life he wrote hardly anything that was not concocted from earlier sketches. In this last period he prod. incidental mus. for 2 plays, Arthur and Beau Brummel, a 5th Pomp and Circumstance march, the Nursery Suite, and the Severn Suite. He was at work on a Ben Jonson opera, The Spanish Lady, and a 3rd sym. at the time of his death. In 1923 he returned to live in Worcestershire and often appeared throughout the country as cond. of his own works. He became Master of the King's Musick in 1924 and was created a baronet in 1931. He was the first great composer to realize the possibilities of the gramophone and from 1914 to 1933 made many recordings of his own mus. which are important historical documents, the most celebrated being that of the vn. conc. made in 1932 with the 16-year-old Menuhin. KCVO 1928. GCVO 1933.

Elgar's greatness as a composer lies in his ability to combine nobility and spirituality of utterance with a popular style. Side by side with his large-scale works are dozens of lighter pieces distinguished by melodic charm and fine craftsmanship. Learning entirely by the practical experiences of his youth, he became one of the supreme masters of the orch., but his command of choral effects in his masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius is no less wonderful. His harmonic language derives from Schumann and Brahms coloured by the Wagnerian chromaticism endemic to his generation, the whole being lightened by a gracefulness akin to Bizet and Saint-Saëns. Like his personality, his mus. veers from extrovert warmth and geniality to a deep introspective melancholy. His prin. works are:THEATRE (incl. recitations): Incidental mus., funeral march, and song for Grania and Diarmid ( Yeats and Moore), Op.42 (1901); The Crown of India, masque, Op.66 (1902–12); Carillon, Op.75, reciter, orch. (1914); incidental mus. for The Starlight Express ( Blackwood and Pearn), Op.78 (1915); Une voix dans le désert, Op.77, reciter, sop., orch. (1915); The Sanguine Fan, ballet, Op.81 (1917); Le drapeau belge, Op.79, reciter, orch. (1917); incidental mus. to Arthur ( Binyon) (1923); incidental mus. to Beau Brummel ( Matthews) (1928).ORCH.: Froissart, Op.19 (1890), Serenade for str. in E minor, Op.20 (1892); Sursum Corda, Op.11 (1894); Imperial March, Op.32 (1897); Enigma Variations, Op.36 (1898–9); Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Op.39, No.1 in D major, No.2 in A minor (1901), No.3 in C minor (1904), No.4 in G major (1907), No.5 in C major (1930); Cockaigne, Op.40 (1900–1); In the South (Alassio), Op.50 (1904); Introduction and Allegro for str., Op.47 (1905); The Wand of Youth Suites Nos. 1 and 2, Opp. 1a and 1b (1907 and 1908 respectively); sym. No.1 in A♭ major, Op.55 (1907–8); Elegy for str., Op.58 (1909); vn. conc. in B minor, Op.61 (1909–10); Romance for bn., Op.62 (1910); sym. No.2 in E♭ major, Op.63 (1903–11); Coronation March, Op.65 (1911); Suite, Crown of India, Op.66 (1912); Falstaff, Op.68 (1902–13); Sospiri for str., hp., org., Op.70 (1914); Polonia, Op.76 (1915); vc. conc. in E minor, Op.85 (1918–19); Empire March (1924); Severn Suite, Op.87, brass band (1930), for orch. (1932); Nursery Suite (1931).VOICES & ORCH.: The Black Knight, cantata, Op.25 (1889–93); Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands, Op.27 (1896); The Light of Life (Lux Christi), oratorio, Op.29 (1895–6, rev. 1899); Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, cantata, Op.30 (1894–6); The Banner of St George, ballad, Op.33 (1896–7); Caractacus, cantata, Op.35 (1898); The Dream of Gerontius, Op.38 (1899–1900); Sea Pictures, song-cycle, mez., orch., Op.37 (1897–9); Coronation Ode, Op.44 (1902); The Apostles, oratorio, Op.49 (1901–3); The Kingdom, oratorio, Op.51 (1901–6); 3 Songs with orch., Op.59 (1909–10); The Music Makers, choral ode, Op.69 (1902–12); The Spirit of England, Op.80 (1915–17).PART-SONGS & CHURCH MUSIC: Ave, verum corpus, Op.2, No.1 (1887); Ecce sacerdos magnus, ch., org. (1888); My love dwelt in a northern land (1889); Spanish Serenade, Op.23 (1891, with orch. 1892); Te Deum and Benedictus, Op.34 (1897); The Sword Song, from Caractacus (1898); To her beneath whose steadfast star (1899); Weary Wind of the West (1902); 5 Part-Songs from the Greek Anthology, Op.45 (1902); Evening Scene (1905); 4 Part-Songs, Op.53 (1907); The Reveille, Op.54 (1907); Angelus, Op.56 (1909); Go, Song of Mine, Op.57 (1909); O hearken thou, offertory, Op.64 (Coronation 1911); Great is the Lord (Psalm 48), Op.67 (1912); Give Unto the Lord (Psalm 29), Op.74 (1914); 2 Choral Songs, Op.71 (1914); Death on the Hills, Op.72 (1914); 2 Choral Songs, Op.73 (1914); The Wanderer and Zut, zut, zut (1923).CHAMBER MUSIC: Promenades for wind quintet (1878); Harmony Music, wind quintet (1879); Allegretto on GEDGE, vn., pf. (1885); Salut d'Amour, Op.12, for pf. solo, for vn. and pf., for orch., and in many other arrs. (1888–9); Liebesahnung, vn., pf. (1889); La Capricieuse, Op.17, vn., pf. (1891); Very Easy Melodious Exercises in the 1st Position, Op.22, for vn. (1892); Études caractéristiques, Op.24, vn. (1882–92); Chanson de Nuit, Chanson de Matin, Op.15, Nos. 1 and 2, vn., pf. (later orch.) (No.1 pubd. 1897, No.2 pubd. 1899); vn. sonata in E minor, Op.82 (1918); str. qt. in E minor, Op.83 (1918); pf. quintet, Op.84 (1918–19).SHORT PIECES FOR SMALL ORCH.: Cantique, Op.3 (1912 orch. of 1897 organ solo Adagio solenne); Rosemary (1914 orch. of 1882 pf. solo); Sevillana, Op.7 (1884); Salut d'Amour, Op.12 (1888); 3 Bavarian Dances, Op.27 (Nos. 1, 3, and 6 of From the Bavarian Highlands) (orch. 1897); Minuet, Op.21 (1899 orch. of 1897 pf. solo); Chanson de Nuit; Chanson de Matin, Op.15, Nos. 1 and 2 (1901 orch.); Sérénade lyrique (1899); Dream Children, Op.43 (1902); Carissima (1913); Minuet (Beau Brummel) (1928); Mina (sketched for pf. 1932, orch. 1933).SOLO SONGS: Through the long days (1885); The Wind at Dawn (1888); Queen Mary's Song (1889); Like to the Damask Rose (1893); Shepherd's Song (1893); Rondel (1894); After (1895); Love Alone Will Stay (incorporated into Sea Pictures as In Haven) (1897); Pipes of Pan (1900); In the Dawn; Speak, Music (1902); Land of Hope and Glory (1902); Pleading (1908); The Torch; The River (1909–10); The Fringes of the Fleet (1917); and many more.PIANO: Rosemary (Douce Pensée) (1882, orch. 1914); May Song (1901, orch. 1928); Concert Allegro, Op.46 (1901); Dream Children, Op.43 (1902); Skizze (1903); In Smyrna (1905); Echo's Dance (from Sanguine Fan) (1917); Sonatina (1889, rev. 1930); Adieu (1932); Serenade (1932).ORGAN: 11 Vesper Voluntaries, Op.14 (1889–90); Sonata in G major, Op.28 (1895); Sonata No.2, Op.87a (arr. by Atkins of Severn Suite) (1932–3).TRANSCRIPTIONS FOR ORCH.: J. S. Bach: Fugue in C minor (Elgar Op.86) f.p. London 1921; Fantasy in C minor, f.p. Gloucester 1922; Handel: Overture in D minor, f.p. Worcester 1923; Chopin: Funeral March from Pf. Sonata in B♭ minor, 1933.UNCOMPLETED: sym. No.3, Op.88 (begun c.1932); The Spanish Lady, opera, Op.89 (begun c.1932); pf. conc., Op.90 (sketches date from 1909).

Sir Edward Elgar

views updated May 14 2018

Sir Edward Elgar

The works of the English composer Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) ushered in the modern flowering of English music. His work is characterized by brilliant orchestration and impressive craftsmanship.

Edward Elgar was born on June 2, 1857, in Worcester. His father played the organ and directed the choir in St. George's Catholic Church, was a violinist in local orchestras, and ran a music store. This musical ambience was school and conservatory for Edward, who received no formal musical education except for a few violin lessons. He served his apprenticeship as a church organist, choirmaster, and director of amateur orchestras and the band of the county mental institution. The focus of musical activity was the annual choir festival, when distinguished conductors and soloists performed oratorios by George Frederick Handel and Felix Mendelsohn, as well as newly commissioned works, with the local choir.

Elgar's earliest works were for his church choir, and in later years his most important compositions were large oratorios commissioned for choir festivals. Through these performances he became known throughout England. His first important orchestral piece was the Enigma Variations (1899). The "enigma" refers to the theme on which the variations are written, a countertheme to an unnamed and unplayed melody. There have been many conjectures about the mysterious theme, but its identity has never been determined. Each of the variations is labeled with the initials or nickname of friends of the composer, and each variation is a musical character sketch. The piece is beautifully orchestrated and written.

Elgar's choral masterpiece is The Dream of Gerontius (1900). Written to a religious poem by Cardinal Newman, it is perhaps the finest English composition of the Victorian era. It is Wagnerian in its use of leitmotivs characterizing the protagonists and situations, the rich, chromatic harmony, and the masterful orchestral writing.

Other important works by Elgar are the Violin Concerto (1910) and two overtures, Cockaigne (1910) and Falstaff (1913). His best-known piece is Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 (1901), a concert march from which the patriotic hymn "Land of Hope and Glory" was written. Its honest, brilliant tunes epitomize the optimism of Edwardian England.

Elgar was knighted in 1904 and named master of the king's music in 1924. By the time of his death on Feb. 23, 1934, in Worcester, the younger 20th-century composers had made his music seem old-fashioned. Later evaluations, however, have been more generous, and Elgar's place in music seems once again assured.

Further Reading

The best works on Elgar are W. H. Reed, Elgar (1939), which includes analyses of three major works; Diana McVeagh, Edward Elgar: His Life and Music (1955); Percy Marshall Young, Elgar, O. M.: A Study of a Musician (1955), a biography which emphasizes his music; and Michael Kennedy, Portrait of Elgar (1968), a study of his character. A good background study which discusses Elgar's work is Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961).

Additional Sources

Anderson, Robert, Elgar, New York: Schirmer Books: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993.

De-la-Noy, Michael, Elgar, the man, London: A. Lane, 1983.

Kennedy, Michael, Portrait of Elgar, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

McVeagh, Diana M., Edward Elgar, his life and music, Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979.

Moore, Jerrold Northrop, Edward Elgar: a creative life, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Mundy, Simon, Elgar, London; New York: Omnibus Press, 1984.

Reed, William H. (William Henry), Elgar as I knew him, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Young, Percy M. (Percy Marshall), Elgar, O. M.: a study of a musician, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980, 1973. □

Elgar, Sir Edward

views updated Jun 11 2018

Elgar, Sir Edward (1857–1934) English composer. His individual style is first evident in his set of 14 orchestral variations, the Enigma Variations (1899). Elgar's oratario, The Dream of Gerontius (1900), established him as a leading European composer. Other works include a violin concerto (1910), a cello concerto (1919) and two symphonies. His third symphony was completed (1998) by Anthony Payne. Elgar is perhaps best-known for the patriotic piece “Land of Hope and Glory”, one of the five Pomp and Circumstance marches (1901–30).

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Sir Edward William Elgar

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