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Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Edward Elgar photo First impressions of Sir Edward Elgar are that he looks like a quintessential English Gentleman in most of his photos, with a large "handlebar" moustache and frequently pictured in a rural location. His music too seems to be very English with some pieces closely associated with that very English of occasions called "The Last Night of the Proms". However the truth is more complicated than this, both for the man and his music. He was a catholic in a protestant country. As a composer he was largely self-taught, so he lacked the social connections and the authority which come from an academic study of music. His musical style also grew from European traditions and is particularly close in style to that of Johannes Brahms and the late Romantics such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss.

Edward Elgar portrait Young Edward certainly had some musical influences as a child. He was born in a village near Worcester, where his father was organist with a music shop and piano-tuning business. His musical education was not formal, but he learned to play the organ from his father and taught himself to play the violin so he could join the local orchestra. Elgar left school at 15 and started a musical career giving piano and violin lessons. At 22 he became the bandmaster at the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum, and in that post he wrote and arranged many works to be played at local occasions. With this and conducting and performing positions in other local groups, Edward Elgar became a skilled arranger and orchestrator. This marked the start of his initial creative period, and some of his first works were performed and published.

Edward Elgar: Sospiri, music for Violin and Piano - album cover Elgar then married Caroline Alice Roberts, one of his piano students against the wishes of her family: she was the daughter of a retired army general. Alice dedicated herself to her husband's career, and his reputation as a serious composer began to accelerate. During the next 30 years until Alice died, Elgar completed most of his major works. His reputation grew significantly with critics and with other composers (Richard Strauss was an admirer of his work), and his music was regularly celebrated and performed. Elgar also formed a close friendship with his publisher, August Jaeger, who was the inspiration for the "Nimrod" variation in the Enigma Variations. The composer also embraced modern technology and was one of the first major composers to record his own music - see recommendations below.

Edward Elgar: Commemorative Statue in Worcester Recognition of the composer's international standing came in 1904 when he received a knighthood. After his wife's death in 1920, Elgar's creativity decreased but his musical stature and influence lived on. Edward Elgar is now seen as the first of a new wave of English composers and, despite it being based on German and to some extent French traditions, elements of Elgar's style are forever associated with Englishness. Some of his themes are noble and majestic, but his music is frequently melancholy and can be surprisingly complex. When Elgar himself died he left sketches for a Third Symphony where only the opening had been fully orchestrated. A completion of the work by Anthony Payne has been performed and recorded - see also the recommendations below. The composer's birthplace is now a museum, and a commemorative statue to the composer can be seen in Worcester.

Elgar's Music - key works

Note that the phrase "Pomp and Circumstance" which Elgar uses for his set of patriotic marches, comes from Shakespeare's "Othello".

    Edward Elgar: The Collector's Edition - boxset cover
  • Serenade for Strings
  • Introduction and Allegro for Strings
  • Variations on an Original Theme - "The Enigma Variations" which include the famous Nimrod Variation
  • Concert Overtures: Froissart, Cockaigne (In London Town), & In the South (Alassio)
  • 5 Pomp and Circumstance Marches - No. 1 is the famous one whose trio section became Land of Hope and Glory, a 6th March was sketched by Elgar and completed by Payne
  • 2 Symphonies
  • 3rd Symphony - unfinished when Elgar died, though a version was completed by Anthony Payne
  • Edward Elgar: Wand of Youth Suites, Nursery Suit & Dream Children - album cover
  • Falstaff: Symphonic Study
  • The Wand of Youth - 2 orchestral suites
  • Violin Concerto
  • Cello Concerto
  • Romance for bassoon and orchestra
  • Several Cantatas and Oratorios - including "The Dream of Gerontius" the most famous, plus "The Apostles" and "The Kingdom" which were intended to become a trilogy
  • Several Songs (such as the Song Cycle "Sea Pictures") and Motets
  • A range of Chamber Music (mostly for strings and keyboards), including "Salut d'Amour", Chanson de Nuit, Chanson de Matin, Violin Sonata, String Quartet and Piano Quintet

Examples of Elgar's music on mfiles include:

Edward Elgar - Recommendations:

    The Elgar Edition: The Complete Electrical Recordings of Sir Edward Elgar - boxset cover
  • Elgar: Orchestral Works - Enigma Variations and Pomp & Circumstances Marches (conducted by Sir Adrian Boult) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Elgar: Complete Symphonies - including the 3rd (commemorative box-set of 3 CDs on the Naxos label) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Edward Elgar: The Collector's Edition (a definitive box-set of 30 CDs by many famous conductors) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius (Richard Hickox conducting the London Symphony Orestra and Chorus) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • The Elgar Edition - The Complete Electrical Recordings of Sir Edward Elgar (a boxset of 9 CDs or remastered recordings conducted by the composer himself) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Sir Edward Elgar - Wand of Youth Suites, Nursery Suite, Dream Children (3 major works showing a gentler side to the composer's nature) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Edward Elgar elaborated by Anthony Payne: Symphony No.3 & Pomp and Circumstance No.6 - album cover
  • Elgar: Sospiri - Music for Violin and Piano, including Violin Sonata, Salut D'Amour, Sospiri, and many more works (Violin: Lydia Mordkovitch, Piano: Julian Milford) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Elgar: Symphonies 1 & 2, Overture: In the South, Serenade for Strings (Conducted by Sir John Barbirolli - 2 CDs) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Elgar elaborated by Anthony Payne: Symphony No.3 & Pomp and Circumstance March No.6 (Sapporo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tadaaki Otaka) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Elgar: Violin Concerto - performed by Gil Shaham (with David Zynman conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
  • Elgar: Cello Concerto (performed by Maria Kliegel), Introduction and Allegro, Elegy, Serenade for Strings, Salut d'amour, Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com