Edward (1857 - 1934)
June 2, 1857, Broadheath, Worcestershire, England.
d. Feb. 23, 1934, Worcester, Worcestershire
in full SIR
EDWARD WILLIAM ELGAR English
composer whose works in the orchestral idiom of
late 19th-century Romanticism--characterized by
bold tunes, striking colour effects, and mastery
of large forms--stimulated a renaissance of
The son of an organist and
music dealer, Elgar left school at age 15 and
worked briefly in a lawyer's office. He was an
excellent violinist, played the bassoon, and
spent periods as a bandmaster and church organist.
He had no formal training in composition. After
working in London (1889-91), he went to Malvern,
Worcestershire, and began to establish a
reputation as a composer. He produced several
large choral works, notably the oratorio Lux
Christi (1896; The Light of Life), before
composing in 1896 the popular Enigma Variations
for orchestra. The variations are based on the
countermelody to an unheard theme, which Elgar
said was a well-known tune he would not identify--hence
the enigma. Repeated attempts to discover it have
been unsuccessful. All but the last of the 14
variations refer cryptically to friends of Elgar,
the exception being his own musical self-portrait.
This work, highly esteemed by Hans Richter, who
conducted the first performance in 1899, brought
Elgar recognition as a leading composer and
became his most frequently performed composition.
In 1900 there followed another major work, the
oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, which many
consider his masterpiece. Based on a poem by John
Henry Cardinal Newman, it dispensed with the
traditional admixture of recitatives, arias, and
choruses, using instead a continuous musical
texture as in the musical dramas of Wagner. The
work was not well received at its first
performance in Birmingham, but after it was
acclaimed in Germany, it won British favour.
Elgar, a Roman Catholic,
planned to continue with a trilogy of religious
oratorios, but he completed only two: The
Apostles (1903) and The Kingdom (1906). In these
less successful works, representative themes are
interwoven in the manner of the leitmotivs of
Wagner. Other vocal works include the choral
cantata, Caractacus (1898), and the song cycle
for contralto, Sea Pictures (1900).
1904 Elgar was knighted, and from 1905 to 1908 he
was the University of Birmingham's first
professor of music. During World War I he wrote
occasional patriotic pieces. After the death of
his wife in 1920, he curtailed his music writing
severely, and in 1929 he returned to
Worcestershire. Friendship with Bernard Shaw
eventually stimulated Elgar to further
composition, and at his death he left unfinished
a third symphony, a piano concerto, and an opera.
principal works of a programmatic nature are the
overture Cockaigne, or In London Town (1901), and
the "symphonic study" Falstaff (1913).
Of his five Pomp and Circumstance marches (1901-07;
1930), the first became particularly famous. Also
highly esteemed are his two symphonies (1908 and
1911), the Introduction and Allegro for strings (1905),
and his Violin Concerto (1910) and Cello Concerto
first English composer of international stature
since Henry Purcell (1659-95), Elgar liberated
his country's music from its insularity. He left
to younger composers the rich harmonic resources
of late Romanticism and stimulated the subsequent
national school of English music. His own idiom
was cosmopolitan, yet his interest in the
oratorio is grounded in the English musical
tradition. Especially in England, Elgar is
esteemed both for his own music and for his role
in heralding the 20th-century English musical
Contribution below from SterlingTimes visitor Ian
Sir Edward Elgar (1857
- 1934) is probably the most famous of English
composers. Certainly he was a true patriot.
was born in West Worcestershire and for much of
his working life he lived in and around Malvern.
was on 10th May 1901, at his home in Wells Road,
Malvern, that he called his friend Dorabella into
his study and said "I've got a tune that
will knock 'em flat !" He then sat down at
his piano and played Pomp and Circumstance March
No.1 in D major, later to be known as "Land
of Hope and Glory". The first orchestral
performance of this, with the solo vocal, was at
the coronation of King Edward VII in Westminster
Abbey the following year.
is a strange coincidence that the centenary of
this composition is likely to coincide almost
exactly with the next general election,
anticipated in May of this year. Could this
be an omen for Great Britain's future exit from
the European Union ?
bronze statue of Sir Edward Elgar, in the centre
of Malvern, was unveiled by the Duke of York
last June (2000) just a couple of weeks before a
visit to Malvern by Jeffrey Titford - leader of
the UK Independence Party. The
attached photo shows (left to right) Ian Morris, UKIP's
prospective parliamentary candidate for West
Worcestershire, with Sir Edward and Jeffrey Titford.
of the present-day electors in West
Worcestershire constituency is Nigel Kennedy -
whose recordings of Elgar's violin concerto are
world famous. Nigel Kennedy lives in West Malvern.
Edward Elgar is buried at St Wulstan's
church, Malvern. He would probably turn in
his grave if he could see what had happened to
his "land of hope and glory".