54. Edward Elgar [365 Composers for 2013]


23rd February – Edward Elgar


Elgar (2nd June 1857 – 23rd February 1934) is our composer for 23rd February, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: English
Lifespan: 76 years
Genre: Romantic
Education: Self-taught
Fame Ranking: 1

One of England’s best-loved composers, Edward Elgar is known for his internationally successful compositions including the “Enigma Variations”, the “Pomp and Circumstance Marches” (including the song “Land of Hope and Glory”) and his violin and cello sonatas. Born in the English Midlands, Elgar was encouraged musically from an early age. His father was a piano tuner by trade and also managed a shop selling musical supplies, and played the violin and organ. His family were not wealthy however, and Elgar was unable to fulfill his dream of studying music at Leipzig Conservatory due to lack of funds. He taught himself as much as possible and cites the Grove Encyclopedia of Music as one of the books he voraciously devoured.

For much of his life Elgar was only moderately successful, and although he was well-known locally, he struggled to achieve recognition further afield. He supplemented his income by taking up various unusual musical post including that of conductor of the attendants’ band at the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum and professor of the violin at the Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen.

Elgar’s first big success came in 1899, when his highly original “Enigma Variations” were performed in London, to great acclaim. The variations are based on the personalities of his circle of close friends. Elgar stated that for each variation he had “written what I think they would have written – if they were asses enough to compose”. The success of the “Enigma Variations” was soon followed with the performance of the first of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” Marches. Played at the Proms for the first time in 1901, the first March received a double standing ovation, an unheard of reaction from audiences before then. Elgar later added the patriotic song “Land of Hope and Glory”, although in later years he would have preferred the lyrics to be less nationalistic. March no.1 delighted the audiences so much that it has become a staple number in the Proms concerts, performed at the Last Night of the Proms every year.

By the 1920s, Elgar’s music was falling out of fashion, although he was still much-loved by the British public. He began to devote more time to his hobbies, which included home chemistry experiments and sport. He was a fan of the Wolverhampton Wanderers and even composed an anthem for the football team, entitled “He Banged the Leather for Goal”. He was also known to frequently slope off from rehearsals so that he could attend the horse races.

Elgar died in 1934, and is buried in Little Malvern, Worcestershire.

Here is Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the “Enigma Variations”:




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