Edward Elgar

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by

Edward Elgar – ( Sir Edward Elgar, Bt by Sir William Rothenstein chalk, 1917 Primary Collection)

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 Elgar valued the company of groups of like minded friends enough to base a whole work on the idea. The dedication of his  Enigma Variation reads: ‘To my friends pictured within.’ He was  a natural collaborator and very happy to demonstrate new works at the piano, in the context of social evenings. At one such evening, Fritz Kreisler pushed him of the piano stool with the words:

‘You composers never know how to play your own music’. Elgar took this with the bonhomie  of one who expected such artistic rough-and tumble in the protected space of the salon.

 Howard’s End is full of the discussion of music, of its meaning, and its quality. Elgar is clearly not quite the thing, maybe because it is new. This may reflect Forster’s own predilections.

‘The Beethoven’s fine,’ said Margaret, who was not a female of the encouraging type. ‘I don’t like the Brahms though, nor the Mendelssohn that came first- and ugh! I don’t like this Elgar that‘s coming.’/‘What, what?’ called Herr Liesecke, overhearing. ‘The “Pomp and Circumstance” will not be fine?’

 Beethoven-Canon and Landler. Peter Sheppared Skaerve-Violin, Yves Savary-Cello

 Elgar walked in the footsteps of the pre-Raphaelite circles to which Joachim had been close. He often visited Alice Stuart-Wortley, the ‘windflower’ from the violin concerto, who was John Everett  Millais’s daughter, at her house, 7 Cheyne Walk.

By 1940, a few years after his death, ?Eliot was able to include Elgar in his definition of English ‘culture’.

[T S Eliot] ‘Culture … includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people: Derby Day, Henley Regatta. Cowes, the 12th of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale Cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth-century Gothic churches, and the music of Elgar.’

 Of course, Eliot well know that every English person’s reaction to this list would neatly pigeon-hole them, in terms of class, education and wealth.

The violinist William H. Reed best understood Elgar’s ‘creative workshop’.

[W H Reed]: ‘One can almost hear him say: ‘Don’t starve the quavers’-one of his favourite expressions.

  After their initial meeting on Regent Street in 1909, Reed became a vital collaborator in the composition of the violin concerto. He described the scene in Elgar’s work room, a private space, having become part of the most private compositional process:

‘On arriving at the house I found it in the state I had become accustomed to at the London flat. Manuscript paper all over the room, scraps at any vantage point, many different version of the same thing with different versions of the same thing with different bowings to be tried for each. At once we plunged into it. Passages were tried in different ways; the notes were regrouped or the phrasing altered.’


Lived at 3 Marloes Road the summer of 1889, then the following year at 51 Avonmore Road.[1]

 Howard’s End, E M Forster, Penguin, London, 1985, P.49

A Musical Gazeteer of Great Britan and Ireland, Gerald Norris, David Charles, Newton Abbot/London, 1981, P.58

 On th Constitution of Church and State,  T S Eliot, HBJ, New York, 1940, P.67

Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Study of Chamber Music, Compiled and Edited by WW Cobbett, OUP,  London, 1929, Volume 1, .373