The music of Sir Edward Elgar prompts another ‘e’ word – emotion. Lots of other words too of course – pride, passion, Britishness. But let’s stick with emotion for the minute.
He was a major English composer at the end of the Nineteenth and beginning of the Twentieth Centuries. Perhaps one of his most well known works these days is his Pomp and Circumstance Marches so let’s start there. As this Wiki entry explains, the title of the works come from Shakespeare’s Othello. The entry gives information about each of the five marches if you would like it. The first March in D Major is the most famous, being the one traditionally played at the concert to mark the last night of the annual BBC Proms season at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
I have had the priviledge to be both in the audience for such a concert, and on the stage performing (I was once a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus). In each case, to be part of the rousing throng, with many hundreds of other people joining together to sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, written by A C Benson in 1902 to fit the Trio theme of the March, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience. It is impossible to listen to this music without one’s emotions being stirred.
This year’s Last Night will be with us shortly – on 8 September in fact. You can read more about the programme and how to listen to it and/or watch it on Radio, TV or online here. Remember to have a flag – any flag – with you to wave!
Another of Elgar’s very famous works is his Enigma Variations. Strictly speaking, I should refer to these by their proper title – Variations on an Original Theme for orchestra (“Enigma”) but they are so well known, that they have become synonymous with their shorthand name. Elgar dedicated this work to ‘my friends pictured within’ – each of the fourteen variations on the main theme was an affectionate tribute to one of his close circle of acquaintances.
Variation IX, Nimrod, has become popular in its own right, used regularly as it is on solemn British occasions – none more so than on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in London. Again, what could be more emotional?
And one need only listen to the very first note of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor and the hairs are up on the back of one’s neck. Notes 2-15 are pretty breath-taking too, I can assure you – and by then, you’ll be hooked.
As as for the Violin Concerto in B Minor, well it’s so fascinating – when it starts it’s as if one is opening a door onto an ongoing adventure – a bit like the start of a James Bond movie, where our hero is already in full flight? In my mind, we are plunged deep in the English countryside, suddenly following a 1930s good-sort chap who has got caught up some kind of spy thing, a la The 39 Steps… Have a listen and see what you think…
So in general, if any of this has whetted your Elgar appetite, try also things like his Sea Pictures, the Cockaigne Overture, and In the South Overture.
These and all the other works mentioned above can be summed up with some final ‘e’ words: exuberant, evocative and enduring.