Edward Elgar

(1857—1934) composer and conductor

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(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.


Subjects: Music.

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