Elgar, Edward William
In 1893 the Worcester Choral Society gave The Black Knight, and in 1896 Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands. The Light of Life, which had been first called Lux Christi, a short oratorio, was given at the Worcester Festival in 1896; and during the North Staffordshire Festival of the same year, the performance at Hanley of Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, text adapted from Longfellow, met with such noteworthy success that Elgar was for the first time recognized as a candidate for the laurel wreath. This work and The Light of Life are spoken of as being especially full of promise, strong and melodious. From this time until 1900 the works mentioned were repeated at intervals, and other compositions, fresh from his pen, won the approval of musical contemporaries and raised his name to an enviable height in English musical annals. The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in
1897 impelled him to write, an Imperial March, and The Banner of St. George, a cantata. In 1899 two of his best compositions were performed the song-cyle for contralto, Sea Pictures, sung by Miss Clara Butt at the Norwich Festival; and the Theme and Variations for orchestra, of great originality and beauty, at a Richter concert; also Caractacus, written for the Leeds Festival.
In 1900 the University of Cambridge conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Music, and during that same year he was requested to compose a work sufficiently long for a whole morning's performance at the Birmingham Festival. The result was, The Dream of Gerontius, based on Cardinal Newman's poem of the same name, which describes the death of a man, the passing of his soul into the presence of God and then into purgatory. This poem had especially impressed the Catholic musician some years before as a fit subject for a great religious musical work; so it was not written in haste, merely for the occasion, but was completed from partly developed ideas. Whether or not too much was anticipated from its production and it thus fell short of the desired effect, it did not at that time create an impression proportionately greater than that of his former best works, although given high praise by some critics.
In the next year, 1901, for the ceremonies of King Edward's coronation, Elgar furnished the musical setting of Benson's Coronation .Ode for Covent Garden Theatre, which incorporated the two military marches, played first at a previous Promenade concert, and known by the title Pomp and Circumstance. These were so popular from the first, owing to the irresistible rhythm of the air, which forms the trio of the second march, that they were objected to by some of the more pedantic musicians; nevertheless, they were used, and Elgar's music stood first among the offerings for the occasion. They are probably more widely performed than any other work of this composer, and have become quite popular in the United States, the arrangement for organ being frequently played as well as the original score. Elgar includes six marches altogether under this title, though the remaining four of the set are pt &P J ell known.