Elgar, Edward William


Perhaps the most notable figure in the English-speaking musical world of today is Sir Edward Elgar. Since Purcell, England has produced no other composer of genius; and whether or not posterity concedes that rank to Elgar, he has attained at least one valid claim to distinction the disagreement of the critics. He stands unique among English musicians of note in the fact that his musical education, theoretical as well as practical, was a matter of varied experience rather than instruction received of study along accepted lines. The fact that Elgar came of a Roman Catholic family, and breathed from his earliest years the atmosphere of that exceptional form of worship in which music is so integral a part, isolated him from the musical traditions of Protestant England, and his early musical training, or lack of training, in the usual sense, was another factor in the development of his powers. He was born at Broadheath, near Worcester, June 2, 1857. His mother was wellread, and loved the best literature; and, in spite of the limited means and opportunities, the boy was brought up in an intellectual atmosphere; but the varied musical occupations of his father decided the bent of his mind. The  elder Elgar was a partner in a music-selling firm, was the organist of St. George's Church in Worcester for thirty-seven years, and played the violin in the orchestra of the Three Choir Festivals. The young Elgar also played in this orchestra, and before the age of fifteen assisted his father occasionally as organist, picking up his knowledge of these instruments, also of the piano, the bassoon, and other instruments, in his father's warehouse, which gave him opportunity to make many experiments along this line, and to acquaint himself with a great variety of musical compositions. After leaving school he was placed, as so many embryo musicians have been, in a solicitor's office, where for a year he worked steadily at the study of law, and then returned home to become his father's assistant, no further effort being made to induce him to follow a distasteful profession. He read and studied alone numerous works, both ancient and modern, on harmony, counterpoint and other branches of musical theory. It was intended that he should study at Leipsic, but this proved impracticable. Meanwhile, he occupied himself with composition; among his earliest efforts were popular airs for minstrel performances, and music for a little family orchestra, in which his brothers and sisters joined in playing different instruments. In leading the orchestra at the instrumental meetings of the Worcester Glee Club, of which he was, in 1879, appointed pianist and conductor, and at which his early compositions received performance and encouragement, he became acquainted with the masterpieces among the English glees and the music of Corelli and Haydn. Two years before this he had gone to London, where he took a few lessons from Pollitzer in violin, which proved to be the end of regular instruction in music for him, although for some years he visited this teacher at intervals. In 1881 he passed with honors an examination in violin of the Royal Academy of Music, having been solicited to become a candidate by Brinley Richards, the examiner for Worcester. From 1879 to 1884 he was leader of a unique band, the instruments being a first and second violin, first and second cornet, a flute, a clarinet, a euphonium, a bombardon, a doublebass, and a piano, played by attendants at the County Lunatic Asylum. For this combination, which might be said to be well suited to the nature of the institution, he wrote quadrilles and other kindred pieces, and in due time the authorities voted him a small recompense for such work. He also composed continually for the church service, and for a quintet in which he played the bastsoon. Thus he became known as a soloist and orchestral leader in Worcester and its vicinity, and these varied experiences were valuable in developing his sense of orchestral coloring. He was for a time a member of Stockley's Orchestra at Birmingham, where his intermezzo was successfully presented in 1883. The year previous he visited Leipsic for three weeks, and was appointed conductor of the Worcester Instrumental Society, writing analyses for its programs. In 1885 he succeeded his father as organist, and continued to compose much music for the Catholic Church service.

In 1889 he married a Miss Roberts, whose knowledge and appreciation of music and literature became a most beneficial stimulus to Elgar, and in the same year they removed to London. For two years he endeavored to bring his work before the public, but with no success or encouragement. He heard much good music, however, and once a week returned to his old home neighborhood to give lessons. In 1891 he retired to Mal- yern, where he spent his time largely in composing, doing whatever teaching or conducting came his way. His Froissart Overture had been produced the preceding year at the Worcester Festival, but owing to unfavorable acoustic conditions it made no particular impression.

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.

In 1902 interest in The Dream of Gerontius was suddenly revived by the performance of a German translation of the work at the Lower Rhine Musical Festival at Düsseldorf, where Richard Strauss delivered a speech, in which he proclaimed it a masterpiece  and eulogized Elgar to such an extent that " even the English musical public was moved by such an unheard of tribute from abroad," and accordingly hastened to honor the prophet in his own country by repeating Gerontius at both the Sheffield and Worcester Festivals of that year, drawing im mense audiences. During the next two years it was performed several times in London, and in 1903 at Westminster Cathedral; while Covent Garden was devoted for three entire days in March, 1904, to an " Elgar Festival," where his most important compositions were given, and a new overture of remarkable beauty, In the South, as well as Gerontius and The Apostles. The latter, a still more ambitious work than those preceding, had been first produced in 1903 at the Birmingham Festival. According to the prefatory statement of the composer, this was the result of a long-cherished plan that originated in a remark of the schoolmaster in his boyhood, and developed into " oratorio embodying The Calling of the Apostles, their Teaching and their Mission, culminating in the establishment of the Church among the Gentiles;" The Kingdom, which appeared later, is set forth as a continuation of the subject matter in the Apostles. The text of The Apostles is made up of different scriptural passages, skilfully interwoven to form a harmonious whole. It is said to be more complex, more intricately organized than the Dream of Gerontius, and has provoked more criticism. Elgar resupposes familiarity with the criptures in his hearers, bringing out in The Apostles  only such points as are of salient interest or dramatic value; and this lack of minor details may have been confusing to some of his critics. The second performance of this work was in the United States, in 1904, by the Oratorio Society of New York, which also  gave The Dream of Gerontius twice in 1903, under Mr. Frank Darnrosch, and in 1907 gave The Apostles and The Kingdom. The Apollo Club of Chicago performed The Dream of Gerontius in 1903, and again in 1906, and The Apostles in 1906. At the Cincinnati May Festival of 1906, Elgar himself conducted The Dream of Gerontius and The Apostles, and two orchestral works, the overture, In the South, and an introduction and allegro for strings. The year before he had come to America for the first time to receive the degree of Doctor of Music from Yale, and his third visit was made in the spring of 1907, when he conducted his overture, In the South, and the Enigma Variations for orchestra at a Thomas concert in Chicago, and was received with enthusiasm. In October, 1907, The Dream of Gerontius was given at the Worcester (Massachusetts) Music Festival, under Mr. Wallace Goodrich, retiring conductor. Elgar's more recent oratorio, The Kingdom, was performed in England, in October, 1906, at the Birmingham Festival, which has brought out all his large choral works so far. This was followed by performances at six different towns in England during March, 1907. The work is a sequel to The Apostles, and resembles it in the choice of musical themes, but is naturally more meditative in character, Pentecost being the central point of interest in the text. In December, 1907, The Kingdom was performed twice in Germany, at Mayence and Aachen, respectively, and in October, The Dream of Gerontius was given at Melbourne. Elgar's variations for orchestra was given at Monte Carlo during December, 1907, by the Lamoreux Orchestra, and received very favorable comment in French journals. The work most recently brought out in his Orchestral Suite No. 1, which was originally written at the age of twelve for a small family orchestra, as music to a child's play, and entitled The Wand of Youth. This work was revised and re-orchestrated by the composer and produced at a Queen's Hall concert in London. It comprises seven movements; an Overture, Serenade, Minuet, Sun Dance, Fairy Pipers, Slumber Song, Fairies and Giants. This was composed for the entertainment of the family circle, Elgar's brothers and sisters taking the various parts.

It has been the lot of every great composer to become at some time in his life the target for a fire of conflic ting opinions; and this point has now been reached by Elgar, who in his early thirties was unable to procure a hearing in the metropolis of his own country. Those who know him best describe him as a man of conservative nature, yet definite and decided opinions, and sincere character, free from the thirst for publicity for its own sake, composing because he   has something to say in music, which f he cannot leave unsaid. His style is individual, and is characterized by a certain noble gravity and dignity, that is felt even in his lighter works, such as the orchestral variations, and the marches, Pomp and Circumstance. This seriousness is a natural outcome of the mind whose oratorio scores bear the dedicatory letters A. M. D. G. (To the greater glory of God). A certain writer, in emphasizing the religious inspiration of the oratorios, calls attention to the interesting fact that Malvern is the place where The Vision of Piers the Plowman was written, and declares that The Dream of Gerontius should stand in the same rank as Dante's Divine Comedy, and Michelangelo's Last Judgment. Theodore Thomas pronounced it the most important oratorio of recent times. Mr. Joffe, in the International Year Book for 1902, quotes of it: "Scarcely since Wagner's death has there been any musical work so sincere, so fine or noble, so delicately graduated, so exquisitely poetical," and himself says, " it is a work full of striking individuality, though written by a deep student of Wagner, and technically even the score of Die Meistersinger does not overshadow this new score." Robert J. Buckley, in his excellent book, Sir Edward Elgar, says: " What Wagner did for opera, from the point at which it was left by Mozart and Weber, Elgar is doing for oratorios from the point at which it was left by Handel and Mendelssohn, and as many believe, with equal inspiration." In the orchestral field, Elgar is ranked with the best of the modern European composers. Professor Edward Dickinson, in his study of the History of Music, says that Elgar's compositions "indicate a technical knowledge of the highest order in counterpoint and orchestration, as well as a prolific vein of melody." As Elgar was almost entirely self-taught, his work exemplifies what may be called the inductive method in musical composition, from forty years' handling of the instruments. The power to apply this method in music has been seen in some few of the German composers, but not in Elgar's English predecessors.

Personally, Elgar is described as a vigorous, active and enthusiastic man, fond of books and outdoor sports, modest and unassuming in manner; tall, with the stoop of the constant student in his shoulders, and strong, clear features, with an unaffected dignity that would become " a barrister or a member of Parliament." The composer was knighted in 1904 and received the degree of Doctor of Music from Dunelm, and of LL.D. from Leeds the same year, and since then has had conferred upon him the title, Professor of Music, Birmingham University. Oxford also bestowed upon him the degree of Doctor of Music in 1905 and the Western University of Pennsylvania, at Pittsburg, conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. in 1907. Beside the works already mentioned, there are the following: Romance for violin and orchestra; for violin and piano, an allegretto, a sonata, a serenade lyrique, and a gavotte; numerous pieces and a few exercises for violin with piano accompaniment; and etudes characteristiques for violin; sursum corda, for strings, brass, and organ; sonata and twelve voluntaries for organ; part-songs, two quartets for strings; and a quintet for wind-instruments. For small orchestra, Dream Children, two sketches; a minuet; and salut d'amour; for string orchestra, a serenade. For full orchestra, two concert overtures, Cockaigne, and Falstaff ; Sevillana and other pieces; also incidental music to Grania and Diarmid, and a Spanish serenade for chorus and orchestra. There is also a "pendant" to the Cockaigne overture, said to show the " reverse of the joyous picture" of the overture proper. Of Elgar's numerous songs, it will be sufficient to name the following: Weary Wind of the West, My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land, Like to a Damask Rose, A Song of Flight, The Pipes of Pan, Queen Mary's Song, and In the Dawn.