xxxxxEdward Elgar, one of England’s greatest composers, is especially remembered today for the rousing song Land of Hope and Glory, - the first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches - and his Enigma Variations of 1899, a series of fourteen musical portraits of his friends, and containing a hidden, mysterious theme, yet to be discovered. As a composer of international stature, however, his reputation also rests upon his wealth of orchestral and choral music, and the songs, chamber music and piano and violin pieces that he composed throughout his career. His celebrated oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius - based on a poem by the churchman John Henry Newman - is seen by many as his masterpiece, but his works also included concertos for violin and cello, two symphonies (the first being particularly well received), his Cockaigne Overture, his Introduction and Allegro for strings, and his symphonic study Falstaff. He gained immense popularity for his patriotic, stirring marches, and became a symbol of patriotic pride, but he was essentially a very private, reserved person, and many of his works, though large and bold in form, are contemplative in nature and lyrical in tone. In 1920, following the death of his wife - who had encouraged and supported him throughout his career - he retired from public life and virtually stopped composing. His works gave new birth to English music, and paved the way for composers like Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten. He was close friend of the Irish playwright Bernard Shaw, and he visited the English composer Frederick Delius the year before his death in 1934.


(Va, Vb, Vc, E7, G5)


Elgar: by the English artist Edgar Thomas Holding (1876-1952), c1905 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Wood: detail, by the English photographer Ernest Walter Histed (1862-1947), c1906, contained in The Musical Times, March 1911. Delius: by the London photographers Elliot & Fry (1863-1963), c1923 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Church: by the artist Charles Burton (active 1823-1839), published in Lithographic Views of all the Churches and Chapels of Ease in the County of Surrey, by the London surveyor Charles Thomas Cracklow (1763-1826), 1824 – Yale Centre of British Art, New Haven, CT, USA.

xxxxxIt was not until 1899, at the age of 42, that Edward Elgar, one of England’s greatest composers, gained overnight fame with his Enigma Variations. Two years later his reputation soared to new heights with the first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches, a rousing tune which, put to words in 1902, became the patriotic song Land of Hope and Glory. But as a composer his reputation also rests upon his wealth of orchestral and choral work, beginning with his celebrated oratorio The Dream of Gerontius in 1900.

xxxxxElgar was born at Broadheath, a small village near Worcester, and was brought up in a musical environment. His father, a piano tuner by trade, was an accomplished violinist, owned a music shop in town, and was organist at the St. George’s Roman Catholic Church in Worcester. He gave his son piano and violin lessons, and encouraged his early efforts in composition. This apart, Elgar had no formal training, and virtually taught himself to play various instruments and gain a knowledge of musical theory. He was composing little pieces by the age of 12 (such as The Wand of Youth for a home-made play) and by the time he left school he was an excellent violinist and a proficient pianist, organist and bassoon player. He started out working in a solicitor’s office, but he soon left to take up a musical career. “There is music in the air, “ he later declared, “the world is full of it”.

xxxxxOver the next seventeen years he gave piano and violin lessons, and filled his spare time composing, playing and conducting in local orchestras, bands and chamber groups. He played bassoon in a wind quintet made up of his family and friends; was conductor of the Worcester Glee Club; conducted the band at the county lunatic asylum at Powick; and in 1879 became a violinist in the Worcester Philharmonic orchestra. In 1883 a Birmingham orchestra in which he was playing as a violinist, gave the first public performance of his Sérénade mauresque, and two years later he succeeded his father as organist at St. George’s Church. And during this time he made visits to Paris and Leipzig and came under the influence of Richard Strauss. These were busy and, to some extent, happy years, but they brought him no success as a composer. In 1884 he wrote, “My prospects are as hopeless as ever.”

xxxxxBut, given time, all this was to change. In 1889 he married Caroline Alice Roberts, one of his students. A daughter of the late Major General Sir Henry Roberts, her family did not approve of the marriage, but it proved the making of Elgar. Her love, support and encouragement gave him renewed hope and inspiration. She had high hopes for him, and this gave him the confidence he needed. He now devoted himself to composing, and for the next year or so they settled in London to be at the centre of the musical world. In fact, it served no purpose, but on his return to Worcester and the Malvern Hills he loved so much, his fortunes began to change. His Froissart Overture, which had been included in the Three Choirs Festival the previous year, was acclaimed for its masterly orchestration, and his large works for chorus and orchestra that followed - notably The Black Knight and King Olaf, both based on the poetry of Longfellow, and the oratorio The Light of Life - attracted more attention and added to his growing reputation.

xxxxxThe breakthrough which was to bring him national and international fame came in 1899 when the famous Hungarian conductor Hans Richter gave the first performance of his orchestral work Variations on an Original Theme in London. Composed as a musical portrait of his friends, the fourteen variations - finely woven together and full of charm and originality - were enthusiastically received, and brought him recognition as a leading composer. And the success of these musical portraits was further heightened by a hidden theme which Elgar ran through the pieces. Still not discovered, this touch of mystery gave the work its popular title - The Enigma Variations. Two years later his reputation soared to new heights with the first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches. Put to words the following year and known today as Land of Hope and Glory, it captured to the full the feeling of national pride and imperial spirit abroad at that time. Recognised by Elgar himself as “a tune that comes once in a lifetime”, it made him a national hero and the march itself a national anthem in all but name.

xxxxxBut jingoism - the extreme patriotism associated with the likes of Rudyard Kipling - was not in Elgar’s nature. He was a quiet, introspective and, at times, melancholy man, and the bulk of his works are contemplative, serious studies, many with religious overtones. His major work, the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, composed a year before his pomp and circumstance march, has passages of extreme beauty and grandeur. Based on a poem by the churchman John Henry Newman, it traces the journey of a man’s soul’s to his judgement before God and his entry into Purgatory. There followed, in the early 1900s, the religious oratorios The Apostles and The Kingdom, concertos for violin and cello, two symphonies (the first particularly successful), the buoyant Cockaigne Overture (In London Town), the Introduction and Allegro for Strings, and the long symphonic poem Falstaff. And to this must be added the completion of his five pomp and circumstance marches, and a wealth of chamber music (including a piano and violin sonata), songs (such as the cycle Sea Pictures), church music, and delightful violin and piano pieces. Notable in the last category is his Salut d’amour, a tender, sentimental piece composed as an engagement present to his wife to be in 1888.

xxxxxIn particular, the period 1904 to 1914 were years of phenomenal success. In 1904 The Elgar Festival at Covent Garden Theatre, London, attended by the King and Queen, confirmed his place among the great English composers, and he was knighted later that year. From 1905 to 1908 he was Birmingham University’s first professor of music, and he received an honorary degree from Yale University in 1905 during one of his four visits to the United States. He composed music for both the coronation and funeral of Edward VII, and in 1911 was awarded the Order of Merit by King George V.

xxxxxDuring the First World War (1914-1918) Elgar wrote a few patriotic pieces, but the huge loss of life incurred during this conflict distressed him. He ended his career as a composer with his cello concerto, a haunting, beautiful and poignant work, first performed in 1919. The death of his wife the following year was a blow from which he never recovered. She had been his inspiration, and her faith in his ability - his “genius” as she put it - had never faltered. He then went into virtual retirement, returning to his beloved Worcestershire to live the lonely life of a country gentleman. He produced a few small pieces and some incidental music, but no work of any significance. However, he continued to receive honours. He was appointed master of the King’s Musick in 1924, and made a baronet in 1931. At the instigation of the Irish playwright Bernard Shaw - a friend to whom he had dedicated his Severn Suite in 1930 - he did begin composing again and, at his death in 1934, he left unfinished a third symphony and an opera entitled The Spanish Lady, based on The Devil is an Ass, a play by the English poet and dramatist Ben Jonson. Elgar died at Worcester and was buried at St. Wulstan’s Church in Little Malvern, next to his wife.

xxxxxElgar’s work showed an outstanding mastery of orchestration, and his music, a late example of romanticism, had a distinctive English feel about it, born of a deep love for his native land. His five Pomp and Circumstance Marches in particular made him a symbol of national pride, echoing the ceremony and majesty of the British Empire - then at its height -, but much of his orchestral and choral work, though large and bold in form, is contemplative by nature and both lyrical and sensitive in tone. As the first English composer to gain international recognition since Henry Purcell in the 17th century, he gave new birth to English music, and paved the way for composers such as Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten. And as a conductor of some standing, he inspired the likes of Adrian Boult and Malcolm Sargent.

xxxxxIncidentally, Elgar was the first major composer to record his own compositions on the phonograph. The recordings were carried out at the Abbey Road Studios in St. John’s Wood, London, later made famous by the pop group The Beatles in the 1960s. ……

xxxxx……xxThexrousing tune Land of Hope and Glory is a popular fixture at the last night of the so-called Proms, a series of Promenade Concerts originated by the English conductor Henry Wood (1869-1944) (illustrated) in 1895. Now held annually at the Royal Albert Hall, the audience was originally free to walk about during the performance, hence the word “promenade”. The words of the song were written by the poet and essayist Arthur C. Benson (1862-1925) in 1902. ……

xxxxx……xxAnd another of Elgar’s compositions, Nimrod, one of his Enigma Variations, is always played at the ceremony at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday in November, and it is often heard at funerals and other solemn occasions. ……

xxxxx……xxSome of his finest marches were composed for royal occasions. His Imperial March was written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and his Coronation March for the coronation of George V in 1911. ……

xxxxx……xxElgar’sxViolin Concerto was dedicated to Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the Austrian composer and violin virtuoso who gave the first performance of the work in 1910. ……

xxxxx……xxElgar had one child, a daughter born in London in August 1890. She was given the name Carice, a contraction of her mother’s two names Caroline and Alice. ……

xxxxx……xxThe Elgar Visitor Centre is well worth a visit. Situated at the small cottage where he was born, it provides a fascinating insight not only into his life as a musician, but also into the man himself. He delighted in nature, and as a young man loved to walk the Malvern Hills and cycle along the lanes of Worcestershire and Herefordshire. He was fond of puzzles and puns, often drew amusing cartoons and sketches, and in his later years took a keen interest in science and technology.





xxxxxContemporary with Edward Elgar was the English-born composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934), whom Elgar visited during a visit to France in 1933. He also played a major part in the revival of English music at the end of the 19th century. After a brief stay in Florida he spent most of his career in France, and it was there that he composed his major works, the majority inspired by his love of nature - such as the woods and fields of France and England, the mountains of Norway, and the lush Everglades in Florida. Among his most successful works were the operas Koanga and A Village Romeo and Juliet, the choral pieces Appalachia and Sea Drift, and In a Summer Garden, Song of the High Hills, and On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring. However, it was not until he was in his early 40s (as in the case of Elgar) that he gained wide recognition as a composer of distinction. He first found favour in Germany and then, with the enthusiastic support of the English conductor Thomas Beecham, became very popular in England. He was initially influenced by the works of Wagner, Grieg and Debussy, but he developed a very personal, impressionistic style, noted for its flow of rich harmonies. Music, he maintained, had to be concerned with emotions, describing those things which could not be captured in any other way. For the last ten years of his life he was blind and partially paralysed, but he continued composing with the help of a young musician named Eric Fenby. He was befriended by Edvard Grieg early in his career.

xxxxxAnother outstanding English-born composer at this time was Frederick Delius (1862-1934), whom Elgar visited when in France the year before his death. Like Elgar, he played a major part in the revival of English music at the end of the 19th century, but he spent much of his life in France and, despite the distinctive quality of his music, never received the high degree of popularity enjoyed by his contemporary.

xxxxxDelius was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, of German parents. He was educated at Bradford Grammar School and the International College at Isleworth, London, and then joined his father’s business in the wool trade. He showed no interest in commerce, however, and having become proficient as a violinist and pianist, decided to make music his career. Actingxagainst his father’s wishes, he took himself off to Florida, together with a friend, and worked as an orange grower while taking lessons in music from Thomas F. Ward (1856-1912), a talented organist living in Jacksonville. Then, after a short while teaching music and paying a brief visit to New York, he returned to Europe in 1886.

xxxxxHe studied for a while at Leipzig Conservatory - though he was not over impressed with the training! - and it was while there that he was befriended by Edvard Grieg. The Norwegian composer not only encouraged him in his work, furthering his romantic style, but also persuaded Delius’ father to allow his young son to take up a career as a composer. From then on Delius had no money worries and no need to stay in England. Having no real attachment to his country of birth, Delius visited Paris in 1888 and decided to make his home in France. He lived mainly in Paris, but in 1897 he settled at Grez-sur-Loing, a village near Fontainebleau, setting up home with the artist Jelka Rosen (whom he married in 1904)

xxxxxHis move to France marks the beginning of his mature composition. He had composed his attractive Florida Suite while in Leipzig, but he now embarked upon a series of ambitious works which would eventually bring him international fame. To this early period in France belongs his operas Koanga and A Village Romeo and Juliet, the orchestral work Paris - Song of a Great City, his choral pieces Appalachia (Variations on a slave song), and Sea Drift for baritone and orchestra, Brigg Fair, based on an English folksong, In a Summer Garden, and Song of the High Hills.

xxxxxAt first these works made no impression. Like Elgar, he was in his early 40s before he gained any real measure of success, and by that time he had composed five operas, six large orchestral works, and a large number of songs. Recognition of his worth, when it came, began in Germany where, from 1897 onwards, his major works were played for the first time and began to find favour with conductors and public alike.

xxxxxThenxin 1907 he met the English conductor Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) and, through his enthusiastic support, his works grew progressively popular in England. Beecham conducted Paris and Sea Drift in London the following year, and in 1909 gave the first performance of his choral work A Mass of Life, based on the treatise Thus Spoke Zarathustra by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

xxxxxBy 1916, with the completion of his Violin Concerto, the most successful part of his career was at an end. After the First World War (1914-1918) he paid a number of visits to England, but tragedy struck at the age of 60. It was then that he contracted syphilis and over the next four years he became totally blind and partially paralysed. However,zhe continued to compose with the assistance of a young English musician named Eric Fenby (1906-1997). He acted as his amanuensis from 1928 until the composer’s death in 1934. Delius died at Grez-sur-Loing, but he was buried at the Norman parish church of St Peter’s at Limpsfield in Surrey, England. His other works included concertos for piano, violin and cello, chamber music, songs, and two dance rhapsodies.


xxxxxIn his music Delius broke away from the established form. He was doubtless inspired earlier by the works of Wagner, Grieg, and Debussy, and there are hints of their influence at times, but throughout his career he belonged to no school or movement. He followed his own star, guided by a highly personal, impressionistic style. In subject matter his compositions were largely inspired by his great love of nature - be it the lakes and mountains of Norway, the woods and green fields of France and England, or the lush everglades of Florida - and these scenes were portrayed in a flow of rich harmonies, often passionate, often delicate, and sometimes haunting. Music, he argued, must be concerned with the emotions, describing scenes and moods which cannot be explained in any other way. In his lovely tone poem On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, for example, composed in 1912 and now one of his best known works, he conjures up in soft, lyrical tones the very atmosphere of a day in Spring. Thomas Beecham, who did so much to promote and popularize his music, described him as “the last apostle in our time of romance, beauty and emotion in music”.

xxxxxIncidentally, when in Paris in the early 1990s Delius met up with the post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin and the French composer Maurice Ravel. ……

xxxxx…… When Sir Thomas Beecham (he was knighted in 1916) died in 1961 he was also buried in the parish church at Limpsfield, just a few yards from the man whom he had helped to fame.