Edward Elgar, classical music composer

Edward Elgar


Edward Elgar was born on June 2nd, 1857 in the village of Lower Broadheath outside Worchester, England. The son of William Elgar, a violinist of professional caliber that instead made his living as a piano tuner and running a shop selling sheet music and instruments, Elgar received a musical upbringing. By the age of eight, Elgar was learning to play both the piano and violin. He also sometimes accompanied his father as he tuned pianos at the grand houses of Worchestershire, giving Elgar the opportunity to display his talents to the more important members of local society.

Despite his musical upbringing, Elgar was largely self-taught. He read and studied any books he could get his hands on, particularly those concerning music theory. He also attempted to teach himself German with the hopes of attending the famous Leipzig Conservatory where he could receive a more formal music education. His father, however, was unable to afford to send his son to school in Germany and upon completing his general education Elgar instead went to work as a clerk in the office of a local solicitor. The work was less than appealing and he left the job only after a few months.

Setting out with the intention of making a career in music, Elgar began by giving piano and violin lessons as well as occasionally working in his father's music shop. In addition, he found opportunities to play locally as well as compose and arrange works. Chief among these experiences was his chance to play in the violin section at the Worchester and Birmingham Festivals under the baton of Dvořák himself. Elgar's career, however, was slow taking off and it would be many years before he would gain any prominent recognition or fame.

In 1889, Elgar married Caroline Alice Roberts, the daughter of a senior officer in the British army. Elgar being still an unknown musician and, to make matters worse, a Roman Catholic in Protestant England, the engagement caused quite a stir among Roberts's family. In fact, she was disinherited. Alice, however, proved to be the support and encouragement that Elgar needed. Until her death, she filled the role of Elgar's business manager and secretary. She attempted to bring her husband to attention of influential members of society but to only partial avail. Following their marriage, the couple moved to London—the center of England's musical life. His compositions, however, failed to make any lasting impact and they left London in 1891, returning to Worchestershire.

During the 1890s, Elgar had managed to garner some repute as a composer of choral works. Several of his works from this time, including The Black Knight and King Olaf were both moderately successful. Though he was well-known locally in Worchestershire, Elgar finally achieved national fame in 1899 with the premiere of his Engima Variations. Premiered in London under the baton of the German conductor Hans Richter, the work was well-received and catapulted Elgar's career.

With the success of the Engima Variations and the timely death of Sir Arthur Sullivan, Elgar found himself suddenly at the forefront of British music. The very next year he achieved another success with the premiere of The Dream of Gerontius, a setting of a poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman. Despite its ill-prepared premiere, its worth was instantly recognized among music critics. Its success even drew the praise of Richard Strauss. The piece did, however, meet with resistance from some members of the Anglican establishment but it was not enough to diminish Elgar's success.

Further successful compositions followed. Between 1901 and 1930, he composed the Pomp and Circumstance Marches of which the first is undoubtedly his most famous composition. The trio section of this march soon became a sort of unofficial British national anthem in its vocal version. Today, the trio is heard at nearly every graduation ceremony throughout the United States. In March 1904, Elgar was bestowed the extremely rare honor of having a three-day festival of his music presented at Convent Garden, which the king and queen attended on the first night. A few months later in July, he was knighted at Buckingham Palace.

Elgar's most resounding success came in 1908 with the premiere of his First Symphony. He had worked on the project in various forms for the past ten years. It was an instant national and international victory. Within only a few short weeks of its premiere, it was performed in New York, Vienna, St. Petersburg and Leipzig. In the span of a year, it received an astonishing hundred performances throughout Europe and the United States. Following two years later came the Violin Concerto, commissioned by Fritz Kreisler. A triumph by any standards—it received twenty-seven performances within three years of its premiere, it no doubt pales in comparison to the blinding success of the First Symphony. The Violin Concerto was to be, however, his last popular composition though other works still followed. Most notably, three large-scale chamber works were composed in 1918-19—the Violin Sonata in E minor, the Piano Quintet in A minor and the String Quartet in E minor. All three works were well received.

On April 7th, 1920, Alice died of lung cancer and Elgar was suddenly without the unshakable source of support and inspiration that had been so vital to him. Coupled with a lack of demand for his works, Eglar allowed himself to be distracted from composition by various hobbies. In 1923, he returned to Worchestershire. He did not wholly abandoned composition, producing a few works and arrangements.

Following the invention of the electrical microphone in 1925, Elgar took advantage of this technological advancement and made a series of recordings of his orchestral and choral music. Later in 1931, a newsreel was filmed of Elgar recording Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 at the opening of EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London.

By the 1930s, a renewed interest in Elgar's music was kindled. The BBC organized a festival in 1932 of his works as a celebration of the composer's seventy-fifth birthday and he traveled to Paris the following year to conduct his Violin Concerto. Perhaps spurred on by this revival, Elgar undertook two large scale works—an opera titled The Spanish Lady and a Third Symphony. Both, regrettably, were never finished. During an operation on October 8th, 1933, it was discovered that Elgar had inoperable intestinal cancer. He died a few months later on February 23rd, 1934.

Composer Title Date Action
Edward Elgar Romance, Op. 62 01/17/2009 Play Add to playlist
Edward Elgar Sonata for Violin and Piano in e minor, Op. 82 01/19/2009 Play Add to playlist
Edward Elgar Sea Pictures, Op. 37 01/25/2009 Play Add to playlist
Edward Elgar Salut d'Amour 03/02/2009 Play Add to playlist
Edward Elgar Chanson de Matin, Op. 15, No. 2 11/27/2012 Play Add to playlist
Edward Elgar Chanson de Nuit, Op. 15, No. 1 11/27/2012 Play Add to playlist
Edward Elgar Enigma Variations 05/25/2014 Play Add to playlist
Edward Elgar Violin Sonata in E Minor, Op. 82 09/19/2016 Play Add to playlist