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8.557710 - ELGAR: Music Makers / Sea Pictures
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Edward Elgar (1857–1934)
The Music Makers, Op. 69 • Sea Pictures, Op. 37

 

Edward Elgar was born near Worcester. By the age of ten he had composed music for a family play which years later became incorporated into the Wand of Youth Suites (1907, 1908). Apart from violin lessons he had no formal musical training, but from the age of sixteen he began to earn his living as a freelance violinist, teacher, organist and conductor. Marriage in 1889 marked a significant step forward in his career since in Caroline Alice Roberts he found a remarkable partner who recognised his genius and supported his ambitions. A brief period in London trying to establish himself as a composer proved desultory and forced a return to Worcestershire. In the 1890s, however, he became widely known in the provinces through his overture Froissart (1890), and with a series of choral works including Caractacus (1897-8).

National prominence was finally secured by the success of the Enigma Variations (1898-9) and although the première of The Dream of Gerontius (1899-1900) was a disaster, subsequent performances revealed it a masterpiece. During the years prior to the First World War, Elgar's achievements continued with works like the oratorios, The Apostles (1902-3) and The Kingdom (1901- 6), the two symphonies (1904, 1907-8), (1905-11), the Violin Concerto (1905, 1909-10), and the tone poem Falstaff (1913). In a lighter vein his Pomp and Circumstance marches (1901-1930) brought his name to every strata of society.

To the war years belong the choral The Spirit of England (1915-17), and then a final harvest, composed in the rural quietude of Sussex, brought his major chamber music, for example, the Piano Quintet (1918-19), as well as the Cello Concerto (1918-19). With his wife's death in 1919, Elgar's creative spirit died too; thereafter he composed only fitfully, producing the Nursery and Severn Suites (1930) but nothing else of consequence.

 

Elgar identifed intensely with the sentiments of Arthur O'Shaughnessy's ode The Music Makers, which propounded that artists are the real creators and inspiration for mankind and the true makers of history and society. Sketches for it date from the turn of the century, but the final impetus to complete it was a commission from the Birmingham Triennial Festival. Elgar conducted the première on 1 October 1912 with Muriel Foster as soloist. Even though his mastery of orchestral and choral writing is evident throughout, the critics received it tepidly, complaining both about the quality of the poetry and Elgar's use of quotations mainly from his own works.

Yet in the context of the poetic conceit, it was quite logical for Elgar to do so. Furthermore he had a worthy precedent in the 'Works of Peace' section of Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, where his friend had made a feature of self-quotation too. Significantly Elgar had attended the British première of the work in December 1902, the time when he was first sketching ideas for The Music Makers. In reality the quotations only take up a small proportion of the work; moreover they are brilliantly integrated. In describing the music Elgar wrote that its atmosphere 'is mainly sad; but there are moments of enthusiasm, and bursts of joy occasionally approaching frenzy; moods which the creative artist suffers in creating or in contemplation of the unending influence of his creation.'

An orchestral prelude introduces the two principal themes of the work, the first a passionate, restless melody (marked with Elgar's characteristic description 'nobilmente'), the second a tranquil rising phrase played by the violas and cellos. Shortly after the Enigma theme occurs twice. Elgar explained that he incorporated it here 'because it expressed … my sense of the loneliness of the artist as described in the first six lines of the ode'. The hushed chorus, personifying the 'music makers' themselves, enters to a phrase, which Elgar described as representing the 'artist'. At 'dreams' the Judgement motif from The Dream of Gerontius is quoted, whilst 'sea breakers' aptly brings a hint of Sea Pictures, followed by two more references to Enigma. To stirring music the second stanza takes wing and at 'We fashion an empire's glory', Rule Britannia and La Marseillaise are woven into the music.

Much of the music of the third stanza has the character of a stately processional. After a climax midway with a nod in the direction of Gerontius' demons, and a full-bodied passage for the chorus, it ends with a further quiet intonation of the 'artist's' theme. Led by the second main theme, the fourth stanza begins in calm tranquillity but rises to a climax with the voices in unison over a pedal point thundering in the bass. The contralto soloist enters, her music musing on the second main theme, until at the words 'But on one man's soul', 'Nimrod' from Enigma is quoted. Here Elgar alludes to his deceased friend August Johannes Jaeger of the publishing house Novello, whose belief in the composer's greatness never wavered. The 'Nimrod' melody is translated into a superb choral panoply with the contralto riding high above it and the section concludes with a quotation from the Second Symphony. Plunging into urgent music, soloist and chorus hurtle along during the sixth stanza culminating in the return of the 'artist's' motif cried out, almost ecstatically, and leading to a choral fugato. The seventh stanza starts with pastoral, lilting music, but again builds quickly to a climax, but subsequently in gentler music, there are references to Enigma, and towards the end, the Violin Concerto. In the penultimate stanza another recollection of the 'artist's' theme is heard before the music swells as a quotation of the motto theme of the First Symphony is reached to produce a thrilling outburst of choral glory. Finally to music based on the second theme, the contralto in the last stanza leads to further reference to Jaeger as 'the singer who sings no more', and the passage 'Novissima hora est' from Gerontius is heard; before the chorus's final soft utterance of the 'artist's' motif.

Sea Pictures followed in the wake of the triumphant first performance of the Enigma Variations in June 1899, which turned Elgar, virtually overnight, into a composer of national repute. The work was commissioned by the Norwich Festival to be sung by a young contralto who was also destined to become a household name - Clara Butt. Elgar conducted the première on 5 October 1899 and wrote to a friend that Butt had 'dressed like a mermaid', and to Jaeger that 'She sang really well.'

The starting-point for the cycle had been a song composed in 1897, which set words by Elgar's wife, and had been published under the title Lute Song the following year. For the new work, she amended the words to make the sea reference stronger and to the new title, In Haven added, in parenthesis, Capri, which she had visited before she met Elgar. Around this he gathered four more poems with sea allusions which were all composed in July 1899. Much of the success of the settings lies in the superb orchestration, which deftly creates colours that heighten words and images of the poetry. In the third and fifth songs, Elgar recalls themes from the first, so creating a sense of unity within the work. Sea Slumber-Song opens with a typically Elgarian phrase (the same that is quoted in The Music Makers) suggestive of waves rising and falling, and under 'I, the mother mild', an undulating figure on strings evokes an image of a gentle sea swell. In Haven is graced by a caressing melody typical of Victorian salon music charm, whilst Sabbath Morning at Sea is marked by two melodies. The first, played by the orchestra in the opening bars, is rather Wagnerian, but the second, heard at 'Love me, sweet friends this Sabbath day' is Elgar at his most characteristic. The rocking figure from Sea Slumber-Song recurs several times as well as that song's opening phrase. Where Corals Lie is wholly delightful with its wistful melody and light, airy orchestral textures featuring short solos for violin and cello. The Swimmer is the most ambitious song, with Elgar integrating and interchanging the material from verse to verse. The setting is a mixture of dramatic recitative-like narrative and lyrical arioso. The main melody, of an Elgarian 'nobilmente' cast, appears in the orchestral introduction and later dominates the music. Other features to listen out for are a sly hint of In Haven and a final glance back to Sea Slumber-Song with a variation of its contrasting middle section at 'The skies were fairer'. With a vigorous coda the cycle is brought to resplendent end, as if in a flurry of spray and foam.

Andrew Burn

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The Music Makers, Op. 69
Arthur O'Shaughnessy (1844–1881)

[01] (Introduction: Moderato)

[02] We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

[03] With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample a kingdom down.

[04] We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself in our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

[05] A breath of our inspiration
Is the life of each generation
A wondrous thing of our dreaming
Unearthly, impossible seeming…
The soldier, the king, and the peasant
Are working together in one,
Till our dream shall become their present,
And their work in the world be done.

[06] They had no vision amazing
Of the goodly house they are raising;
They had no divine foreshowing
Of the land to which they are going:
But on one man's soul it hath broken,
A light that doth not depart;
And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
Wrought flame in another man's heart.

[07] And therefore today is thrilling
With a past day's late fulfilling;
And the multitudes are enlisted
In the faith that their fathers resisted,
And, scorning the dream of to-morrow,
Are bringing to pass, as they may,
In the world, for its joy or its sorrow,
The dream that was scorned yesterday.

[08] But we, with our dreaming and singing,
Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
The glory about us clinging
Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing;
O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.

[09] For we are afar with the dawning
And the suns that are not yet high,
And out of the infinite morning
Intrepid you hear us cry …
How, spite of your human scorning,
Once more God's future draws nigh,
And already goes forth the warning
That ye of the past must die.

[10] Great hail! We cry to the comers
From the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your sun and your summers;
And renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song's new numbers,
And things that we dreamed not before:
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
And a singer who sings no more.

 

Sea Pictures, Op. 37

[11] Sea Slumber-Song
Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel (1834-1894)

Sea-birds are asleep,
The world forgets to weep,
Sea murmurs her soft slumber-song
On the shadowy sand
Of this elfin land;

I, the Mother mild,
Hush thee, oh my child,
Forget the voices wild!
Hush thee, oh my child,
Hush thee.

Isles in elfin light
Dream, the rocks and caves,
Lulled by whispering waves,
Veil their marbles bright.
Foam glimmers faintly white
Upon the shelly sand
Of this elfin land;

Sea-sound, like violins,
To slumber woos and wins,
I murmur my soft slumber-song,
Leave woes, and wails, and sins.

Ocean's shadowy might
Breathes good night,
Leave woes, and wails, and sins.
Good night…Good night…
Good night…

[12] In Haven
Caroline Alice Elgar (1848-1920)

Closely let me hold thy hand,
Storms are sweeping sea and land;
Love alone will stand.

Closely cling, for waves beat fast,
Foam-flakes cloud the hurrying blast;
Love alone will last.

Kiss my lips, and softly say:
Joy, sea-swept, may fade to-day;
Love alone will stay.

[13] Sabbath Morning at Sea
Elizabeth Barret Browning (1806-1861)

The ship went on with solemn face;
To meet the darkness on the deep,
The solemn ship went onward.
I bowed down weary in the place;
For parting tears and present sleep
Had weighed mine eyelids downward.

The new sight, the new wondrous sight!
The waters around me, turbulent,
The skies, impassive o'er me,
Calm in a moonless, sunless light,
As glorified by even the intent
Of holding the day glory!

Love me, sweet friends, this sabbath day.
The sea sings round me while ye roll afar
The hymn, unaltered,
And kneel, where once I knelt to pray,
And bless me deeper in your soul
Because your voice has faltered.

And though this sabbath comes to me
Without the stolèd minister,
And chanting congregation,
God's Spirit shall give comfort.
He who brooded soft on waters drear,
Creator on creation.

He shall assist me to look higher,
Where keep the saints, with harp and song,
An endless endless sabbath morning,
And on that sea commixed with fire,

Oft drop their eyelids raised too long
To the full Godhead's burning.

[14] Where Corals Lie
Richard Garnett (1835-1906)

The deeps have music soft and low
When winds awake the airy spry,
It lures me, lures me on to go
And see the land where corals lie.

By mount and mead, by lawn and rill,
When night is deep, and moon is high,
That music seeks and finds me still,
And tells me where the corals lie.

Yes, press my eyelids close, 'tis well,
But far the rapid fancies fly
The rolling worlds of wave and shell,
And all the lands where corals lie.

Thy lips are like a sunset glow,
Thy smile is like a morning sky,
Yet leave me, leave me, let me go
And see the land where corals lie.

[15] The Swimmer
Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870)

With short, sharp violent lights made vivid,
To southward far as the sight can roam,
Only the swirl of the surges livid,
The seas that climb and the surfs that comb.

Only the crag and the cliff to nor'ward,
The rocks receding, and reefs flung forward,
Waifs wreck'd seaward and wasted shoreward,
On shallows sheeted with flaming foam.

A grim, gray coast and a seaboard ghastly,
And shores trod seldom by feet of men -
Where the batter'd hull and the broken mast lie,
They have lain embedded these long years ten.

Love! Love! When we wandered here together,
Hand in hand! through the sparkling weather,
From the heights and hollows of fern and heather,
God surely loved us a little then.

The skies were fairer, the shores were firmer -
The blue sea over the bright sand roll'd;
Babble and prattle, and ripple and murmur,
Sheen of silver and glamour of gold.

So, girt with tempest and wing'd with thunder
And clad with lightning and shod with sleet,
And strong winds treading the swift waves under
The flying rollers with frothy feet.

One gleam like a bloodshot sword-blade swims on
The sky line, staining the green gulf crimson,
A death-stroke fiercely dealt by a dim sun
That strikes through his stormy winding sheet.

O brave white horses! you gather and gallop,
The storm sprite loosens the gusty rains;
O brave white horses! you gather and gallop,
The storm sprite loosens the gusty rains;

Now the stoutest ship were the frailest shallop
In your hollow backs, on your high-arched manes.
I would ride as never man has ridden
In your sleepy, swirling surges hidden;

I would ride as never man has ridden
To gulfs foreshadow'd through strifes forbidden,
Where no light wearies and no love wanes.
Where no love, no love wanes.

 


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