Edward Elgar for me is probably the most famous English composer… Why? .. well I didn’t grow up in a very musical household, however Land of Hope and Glory, The Enigma Variations and Pomp and Circumstances all appeared on my radar. Maybe it’s the memories of BBC’s last night of the Proms (although we certainly weren’t avid watches of this so it was probably from the highlights on the 9 o’clock news).
There is also the fact that Edward Elgar lived in the 20th century and he made it onto the twenty pound note until 2010. For some there’s his memorable moustache.
Edward Elgar was born in a small village just outside Worcester. His father, William was a piano tuner who set up a shop selling music scores and musical instruments. He was also a violinist of a professional standard and held the post as organist at St. Georges Roman Catholic church, Worcester… it was certainly the right grounding to produce such and amazing composer. Edgar was the fourth of seven children all of whom were given a musical upbringing. Edgar played both the violin and piano.
William sometimes took Edward with him to work as a piano tuner. Edward would often play the piano exposing him to many rich influential people.
Edward and his family loved their music. At the age of ten he created the music for a play he’d written for the Edgar family, such was the standard of this that it was used forty years later with only minor tweaks, entitled ‘The Wand of Youth’.
Edward had a general education plus local music tuition, also on brief trips to London he occasionally received formal music lessons. In addition he read lots of books on music theory and manuals on how to play the organ.
Elgar said, “my first music was learnt in the Cathedral … from books borrowed from the music library, when I was eight, nine or ten.”
He started his career in 1872 not as a musician but as a clerk in a solicitors. Realising this really wasn’t for him he left initially giving violin and piano lessons and working in his father’s shop …. As you know things definitely progressed from here!
Elgar married Caroline Alice Roberts in 1886. She was very much in love and wrote many of his songs for her including Salut d’Amour which he composed as an Engagement present. It is such a beautiful piece of music.
Caroline was very much behind his creativity being his business manager and social secretary. In her diary, she wrote, “The care of a genius is enough of a life work for any woman.” I’m guessing that she was a very patient lady…
After her death in 1920 Elgar’s music writing slowed down drastically until his death in 1929. On his death he left works unfinished (third symphony, piano concerto and an opera.
· Caroline Alice and Edward only had one child Carice Irene . This name was a contraction of her mother’s names revealed in
Elgar’s dedication of Salut d’Amour.
· It is rumoured that Elgar had a wondering eye and his love for going to watch Wolves play football was not entirely legitimate!!
· Each part of the Enigma Variations relates to a particular person or animal in Elgar’s life. The eleventh variation is supposedly for a friends Bulldog, Dan who fell into the River Wye.
· Aside from his music Edward was also an amateur chemist and enjoyed tinkering in his shed. He actually invented a device for
synthesising hydrogen sulphide called ‘Elgar Sulphuretted Hydrogen Apparatus’ which went into production for a brief time.
· In 1904 he was knighted!
· Composers and the word HMV don’t usually go together in the same sentence, however Elgar was one of the first composers to act upon recorded music and regular met with the people from HMV to make
premiere recordings of his work!