About this Recording
8.557577 - ELGAR: Orchestral Miniatures
English  German 

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Orchestral Miniatures

 

Sir Edward Elgar occupies a strange position in his own country. For many he is associated with British, or, more specifically, English Imperialism, epitomized in 'Land of Hope and Glory', a patriotic anthem now sung with gusto and tongue in cheek on the last night of the London Promenade Concerts each year. The image of an Edwardian country gentleman, with his dogs and horses is misleading. Elgar was the son of a shopkeeper, in the days when to be in trade marked a man for life and escape from this background earned a man the name of counter-jumper. He married the daughter of a retired Indian Army general, a pupil of his, nine years his senior, and it was she who gave him the necessary support, morally and socially, that finally helped him to make his way in Edwardian society. Nevertheless, musically Elgar was far nearer to the German romantic composers of his time than to the developing vein of English music, with its pastoral reliance on newly collected folk-song.

Edward Elgar was born near Worcester, in the West of England, in 1857. His father was a piano-tuner, organist, violinist and eventually a shopkeeper, and it was from him that Elgar acquired much of his musical training. He at first made his living as a free-lance musician, teaching, playing the violin and organ, and conducting local amateur orchestras and choirs. His first success away from his own West Country, after earlier abortive attempts, was in 1897 with his Imperial March, written for the royal jubilee celebrating sixty glorious years of Queen Victoria. His reputation was further enhanced by the so-called Enigma Variations of 1899. The oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, which followed in 1900, was less successful at its first performance in Birmingham, but later became a staple element in British choral repertoire. His publishers Novello had not always been particularly generous in their treatment of him, but he came to rely on the encouragement of the German-born Augustus Johannes Jaeger, a reader for the firm, who found in Elgar's music something much more akin to the music of his native country.

Public recognition brought Elgar many honours, his position sealed by the composition of music for the coronation of King Edward VII. He was awarded honorary doctorates by universities old and new and in 1904 received the accolade of a knighthood. Later official honours included the Order of Merit in the coronation honours of 1911 and finally, in 1931, a baronetcy. Acceptance, as represented by the musical establishment of the country, was confirmed by the award of the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1925, after an earlier award to Delius.

Elgar's work had undergone significant changes in the later years of the 1914-18 war, a development evident in his Cello Concerto of 1919. His wife's death in 1920 removed a support on which he had long relied, and the last fourteen years of his life brought a diminishing inspiration and energy in his work as a composer, although he continued to meet demands for his appearance as a conductor in both the concert-hall and recording studio. He died in 1934.

The chronicler Froissart was born at Valenciennes in 1333 and in 1361 left for England, where he was well received at the court of Philippa of Hainaut, wife of Edward III, and encouraged in his work as a historiographer. On the Queen's death in 1369 he returned to Hainaut, finding a further patron in Wenceslas of Luxemburg. On a later visit to England in 1395 he found that he no longer knew anyone, but was able to establish some new connections. He seems to have died in France shortly after 1400. Elgar was interested in Froissart's Chronicles, his attention also drawn to references in Sir Walter Scott. In the score of his Froissart Overture, written in London in 1890 and first performed at the Worcester Festival in September that year, Elgar quoted lines from Keats: 'when chivalry / Lifted up her lance on high', from a poem addressed to the poet's sister-in-law. Elgar was diffident about the possible reception of his overture, but it proved successful. In sonata-form it starts with a characteristic flourish, a chivalric summons, and other contrasting themes, suggesting elements of medieval romance, are introduced and developed, leading to a concise recapitulation.

May Song was written in 1901 for piano and for violin and piano, to be orchestrated in 1928. It is an occasional piece of romantic charm. Carissima was written in 1913, based on earlier sketches, and intended for recording, the beginning of Elgar's practical interest and involvement in this new technology. It is again a piece of immediate appeal, in the composer's unmistakable musical language.

The Romance for bassoon and orchestra, Op. 62, was written in 1909-10 and dedicated to the distinguished bassoonist Edwin James, a founder-member of the London Symphony Orchestra of which he later became chairman. Elgar arranged the work for bassoon and piano and for cello and piano. Its composition coincided with that of the Violin Concerto, with which it shares some occasional similarities of mood, in a work that explores the lyrical possibilities of the solo instrument, a finely crafted jewel of a piece.

Movements from Elgar's Suite in D were first heard in Worcester in 1882, with the whole suite performed for the first time in Birmingham in 1882. Elgar revised the work in 1899, when it was published by Novello as Three Characteristic Pieces, Op. 10. The first piece, Mazurka, is in the expected mood and rhythm. It is followed by the Sérénade mauresque, originally a Moorish intermezzo, which seems to wander from Moorish Spain to England at its heart, before the return of the characteristic rhythms and intervals expected. The third piece, Contrasts: The Gavotte A.D. 1700 and 1900, starts in Baroque elegance and turns to the contemporary before the opening pastiche returns. The whole movement was apparently suggested by a performance Elgar had seen in Leipzig, in which a pair of dancers offered a similar contrast, first wearing old-fashioned and then modern masks, as they turned to dance with their backs to the audience, but presenting a contemporary appearance.

The Minuet, Op. 21, was originally a piano piece, written in 1897 for the son of a friend, Paul Kilburn. The following year Elgar made an orchestral version of the piece, which was first heard in New Brighton in 1899, conducted by Granville Bantock. It won some fame in this form, as did Chanson de Matin and Chanson de Nuit, Op. 15, Nos. 1 and 2. These last were originally violin pieces, the second, written in 1897, dedicated to an amateur violinist in Worcester, and the first, a companion piece, sent to the publisher in 1899, both orchestrated by Elgar and first heard in this form in London in 1901. They remain popular and familiar in both forms.

Elgar's Three Bavarian Dances are orchestral arrangements of three of the movements from the choral Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands, Op. 27, of 1895. The first, originally under the title Dance, like the other songs recalling places that Elgar and his wife had visited in Bavaria, evokes a Gasthaus at Sonnenbichl. The second dance, originally Lullaby, recalls the mountain village of Hammersbach, and the third, originally The Marksmen, remembers a shooting club at Murnau.

Keith Anderson


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