About this Recording
8.557984 - Violin Recital: Simone Lamsma
English  German 

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Music for Violin and Piano

 

The image of Sir Edward Elgar as an Edwardian gentleman, happier at the race-course or with his dogs than in the concert-hall or with musicians is sadly deceptive. Popularly associated with the heyday of British imperialism through his all too well known Pomp and Circumstance Marches and other occasional celebrations of Empire that have lasted less well, he has seemed to some the musical epitome of a period in British history that it has become fashionable to decry. The picture is a false one. In Edwardian terms Elgar was a counter-jumper, a man of relatively humble origins, son of a jobbing musician who kept a shop in Worcester and later the husband of an imprudent if well connected spinster, the daughter of a Major-General in the Indian Army and nine years his senior. As a Catholic in a largely Protestant and strongly prejudiced community, he must have seemed very much less of an Establishment figure, whatever mask he may have chosen to assume as his fame grew.

Initial recognition was slow in coming. In 1890 the Elgars moved to London from his native West of England, but the following year retreated again to the West Country, taking a house in Malvern, allowing Elgar to return to his earlier activities as a provincial musician, enjoying a merely local reputation. During the last decade of the century he turned his attention largely to the writing of choral works, designed for the flourishing amateur choral societies of his native region and of the North of England. It was the Enigma Variations, completed in 1899, that first established his fame in London and, therefore, nationally. The oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, which followed in 1900, was less successful at its first performance in Birmingham and the publishers, Novello, were not particularly generous in their treatment of him, although he came to rely on the encouragement of the German-born August Johannes Jaeger, a reader for the firm, who found in Elgar's music something much more akin to the music of his native country. The Dream of Gerontius later won the place it now retains in English choral repertoire, finely performed in Manchester under Richter and by 1904 proving acceptable to London critics, resentful, perhaps, of the success of the work abroad.

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 change in the later years of the 1914-18 war, a development evident in the poignant Cello Concerto of 1919. His wife's death in April 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 concert-hall and recording studio. He died in 1934.

Elgar's only surviving sonata for violin and piano, the Sonata in E minor, Op. 82, was written in 1918, the year before the Cello Concerto in the same key. An earlier sonata, written in 1887, was destroyed by the composer. With his reputation now firmly established, Elgar returned in the group of three chamber works of this immediate post-war period, the String Quartet, the Piano Quintet and the present work, to a relatively conservative idiom, with no attempt to challenge on its own ground the harsher musical experiments of the time.

The Violin Sonata opens with a strongly stated romantic theme, in the pulse of the heart-beat, Elgar's most commonly chosen speed. The theme, at first in A minor, is taken up by the piano in the key of E minor, followed duly by a more lyrical second theme. There is a mysterious passage accompanied by violin arpeggios and further development of the thematic material, before the expected recapitulation, which includes the secondary element of arpeggiation before its final dramatic climax. The second movement Romance is dramatic and disjointed in its opening, but a shift from the opening in A minor, a key to which the music pays scant allegiance, leads to a more serene B flat major section, finally capped by a return to the mood of the opening and a concluding resolution into A major. The last movement is in E major, starting serenely enough, before the more resolute rhythms that mark the succeeding section. There are references to earlier material before the sonata comes to an end in a climax of seeming optimism.

The other works that Elgar wrote for violin and piano date from his earlier years and particularly from his years as a provincial violin teacher. His charmingly lyrical Romance, Op. 1, was written in 1878, when he was taking violin lessons with Adolphe Pollitzer, for which he had to travel to London. The connection with Pollitzer, well-known as a performer and as a teacher, brought further advantages in introductions that proved of importance in Elgar's development as a composer. The Romance was dedicated to the grocer and musically ambitious fellow-violinist Oswin Grainger and published by Schott in 1885.

Idyll, Pastourelle and Virelai, the first two written in 1884 and the last perhaps as late as 1890, are grouped together as Op. 4, although first published at various dates. The first was dedicated to 'E.E. Inverness', recalling a holiday encounter that had taken him to Inverness and to the Great Glen, where he had heard and noted the bells of Fort Augustus Abbey, now silenced for ever, and travelled as far as Fingal's Cave. The lilting Pastourelle he dedicated to Hilda Fitton, a friend from Malvern, and Virelai to the Worcester shopkeeper and violinist, his violin pupil Frank Webb.

Salut d'amour, Op. 12, familiar from many arrangements, was originally called Liebesgrüss [sic] and dedicated to Elgar's future wife, Caroline Alice. He was not the first composer to make the mistake of selling a work cheaply and outright, not anticipating its future wide commercial popularity. When it came to Chanson de matin and Chanson de nuit, Op. 15, dating from 1897 and both orchestrated in 1899, he was anxious not to make the same mistake again, as he made clear to his publisher, Novello. Both pieces make attractive and relatively simple additions to violin and piano repertoire. The second work, for which Elgar had originally proposed the title 'Evensong' or 'Vesper', was dedicated to another amateur violinist from Elgar's Worcester orchestra. It is serious in mood, a contrast to the more cheerful Chanson de matin.

Bizarrerie, Op. 13, No. 2, was written in 1889 and makes greater technical demands in its cheerful insouciance. La Capricieuse, Op. 17, dates from 1891 and was dedicated to a violin pupil in Worcester, a lighthearted exercise in staccato and in double-stopping. Offertoire – Andante religioso, written in 1893 but only published in 1903 under the assumed name of Gustav Franke, is a little piece of solemn religious intensity. The Mazurka, Op. 10, No. 1, will be more familiar in its final version of 1899 as the first of the orchestral Three Characteristic Pieces.

Keith Anderson


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