About this Recording
8.553879 - ELGAR: Falstaff / The Sanguine Fan

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Falstaff, Op. 68; Elegy, Op. 58; The Sanguine Fan, Op. 81

The idea for what was to become Falstaff, Symphonic Study in C minor, had been a possibility in Elgar's mind since 1901, but it was not until 1913 that he set to work seriously, determined to provide a work in response to a commission for the coming Leeds Festival, and completing the composition on 5th August. Dedicated to the conductor Landon Ronald, who directed the first London performance, Falstaff allies the composer with the Richard Strauss of the symphonic poems and was seen by George Bernard Shaw as a distinct rival, outclassing Till Eulenspiegel and Don Quixote. The work held a very special place in the affections of the composer. As he explained in a letter to the critic Ernest Newman: "Falstaff… is the name but Shakespeare – the whole of human life – is the theme… over it all runs – even in the tavern – the undercurrent of our failings and sorrows". And towards the end of the period of composition Elgar told a reporter: "I have, I think, enjoyed writing it more than any other music I have composed… I shall say ‘good-bye’ to it with regret, for the hours I have spent on it have brought me a great deal of happiness".

Shakespeare's greatest comic creation, Falstaff, makes his first appearance in King Henry the Fourth, Part 1, as a partner of riot and dishonour with the king's tearaway son, Prince Henry, affectionately known as Hal. A highway robbery is arranged by Falstaff and his companions, after which he himself is robbed by the Prince and Poins, in disguise. Once back at the Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap, they proceed to mock Falstaff for his cowardice and outrageous boasting. In the midst of the revelry, the Sheriff and his men come to arrest Falstaff for theft, but Prince Hal has hidden him behind a curtain, where he falls into a drunken sleep, and according to Elgar, dreams of his innocent childhood. Later, Falstaff is ordered to raise a company of soldiers for the civil war, and at the home of his old friend Justice Shallow in Gloucestershire he turns matters to a profit by selling a discharge to those he has first chosen, and recruiting in their place a band of unfit and incompetent scarecrows. As he relaxes in Shallow's orchard, news is brought of the death of King Henry IV and of the Prince's accession to the throne. Falstaff hurries back to London, hoping for honours from the King. On greeting him as he enters Westminster Abbey for the coronation, Falstaff finds himself cruelly rejected by King Henry V, who is determined to put his disreputable past behind him. Falstaff never recovers from the blow and becomes a shadow of his former portly self, though still preserving happy memories of their earlier friendship.

Elgar was so eager for listeners to understand the way his music reflected the different episodes portrayed in Falstaff that he wrote an extended analysis of the work, which was published before the first performance. In this, though not in the score, he divided the work into four sections of varying length and gave them titles.

[1] Falstaff and Prince Hal

With the scene set in Prince Hal's apartments, the work starts with the principal Falstaff theme, which will return throughout the work in varied tempi, knitting together the whole musical fabric. Other themes follow, representing Falstaff in witty and mercurial mood, before we hear Prince Hal's noble, courtly theme, marked con anima (with spirit). Another Falstaff theme, on the cellos, represents him as persuasive and cajoling. All this material returns and is developed in a way that is consistent with Elgar's "symphonic" subtitle.

[2] Eastcheap. The robbery at Gadshill.
The Boar's Head again. Revelry and sleep

The action moves to a more disreputable part of London, where Falstaff, the Prince and their companions are entertained by the "honest gentlewomen" of the district: the hostess, Doll Tearsheet and others. Their theme is accompanied by an upwardly ripping, 'Tearsheet' figure. Falstaff holds court, and is represented by a new set of themes. This is capped by what Elgar describes as a "gargantuan, wide-compassed fortissimo", a demonstration of his hero's boastfulness and "colossal mendacity". The music becomes calmer and more fragmented before we hear a quiet theme, described by Elgar as representing "cheerful, out-of-door, ambling," its dotted rhythm recalling Falstaff's first resilient, bouncing theme. There are muffled calls through the wood at Gadshill, as muted strings and horns reflect the furtive scurryings that precede the energetic double robbery. After a return to the Boar's Head Tavern and a scherzo-like development of the Eastcheap themes, the tipsy Bardolph is depicted by a hicupping solo bassoon, and then we hear the deep sounds of Falstaff's snoring as he falls asleep. This leads to the first Interlude [3], which recalls Falstaff as a boy, when he was page to the Duke of Norfolk. The touching Dream Interlude suggests, Elgar says, "what might have been."

[4] Falstaff's March.
The return through Gloucestershire.
The new King and the hurried ride to London.

The third part opens with the themes suggesting Falstaff's wit, but these are interrupted by a distant fanfare. This is soon heard closer at hand, and leads into a lopsided march for Falstaff's "scarecrow army". After the excitement of the battle the scene approaches the fields and apple-trees of Gloucestershire with sweetly lyrical music, introduced by the strings, to be followed by the 'ambling' theme. The second Interlude – in Shallow's orchard [5], has what Elgar calls "an old English flavour" and features some "sadly merry pipe and tabor music", as well as some dreamy musings in the lower strings. Suddenly news is brought of the death of the old King and the accession of Prince Hal to the throne, indicated by his theme of courtly grandeur, which throws Falstaff into a state of elation at the prospect of his own future advancement.

[6] King Henry V's progress.
The repudiation of Falstaff and his death

There is a mood of tense excitement outside Westminster Abbey as the crowds, including Falstaff, await the arrival of the new King. The music takes the character of a purposeful march, representing the military aspect of the new King, but in the midst of it Falstaff's 'cajoling' and sounds of general rejoicing can be heard. The climax comes with the most magnificent of all the statement's of Prince Hal's theme as he arrives for his coronation. Falstaff tries to insinuate himself with his former royal friend but is repeatedly rejected. His subsequent decline into benign senility is portrayed in various musical reminiscences of great tenderness, before a quiet brass chord signals his peaceful death. Let Elgar describe the surprise ending: "In the distance we hear the veiled sound of a military drum; the King's stern theme is curtly thrown across the picture, the shrill drum roll again asserts itself momentarily, and with one pizzicato chord the work ends; the man of stern reality has triumphed."

Elgar's Elegy, Opus 58, for string orchestra, a work of profound sensibility, was written in 1909 and first performed at The Mansion House, in the City of London, on 13th July of the same year. The music is intensely moving and heart-felt, reflecting, it may be supposed, sorrow at the recent death of colleagues, notably of his friend and adviser August Johannes Jaeger, the Nimrod of the Enigma Variations.

The ballet The Sanguine Fan was written in 1917 for a charity matinée, a revue, Chelsea on Tip-Toe, in aid of Concerts at the Front. The ballet was based on a painted fan designed by Charles Conder and showing a forest glade, with an open distant prospect in the centre. In the ballet, there is in the middle of the stage a 'somewhat disfigured statue of Eros'. Pan enters, his pipe represented by the sound of the clarinet, to the flute of Echo. He falls asleep, to the sound of the cello, and a young man and two young ladies enter, in amorous conversation, as one drops her fan, picked up by the young man, who escorts his partner away. Echo now approaches, waking Pan and engaging in flirtation with him, moving quickly here and there, with coy pauses in her dance, while Pan shows a greater degree of vigour, entranced by her, but eventually falling asleep once more. The young man and the girl return, having quarrelled, and he curses Eros, the god of love. Thunder suggests the approach of a storm. Echo now, stealing Pan's pipes, flirts with the young man and they dance together. At this Pan wakes, in angry jealousy. The young man tries to take refuge by the statue of Eros, which then, with a thunderbolt, strikes him dead. Pan now tries to punish Echo but is overcome by her charms and carries her off, leaving the mortal girl to mourn over the young man.

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