Sir Edward Elgar


Born: 1857   Died: 1934   Country: England   Period: Romantic
One of the pre-eminent musical figures of his time, Edward William Elgar (1857-1934) bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the finest English composer since the days of Handel and Purcell. Elgar's father owned a music shop and was a church organist who taught his son piano, organ, and violin; apart from this instruction, Elgar was basically self-taught as a musician. At the age of 16, the composer became a freelance musician and for Read more the remainder of his life never took a permanent job. He conducted locally, performed, taught, and composed, scraping by until his marriage to Caroline Alice Roberts, a published novelist of some wealth, in 1889.
Elgar had by this time achieved only limited recognition. He and his wife moved to London, where he scarcely fared better in advancing his career. They couple eventually retreated to Worcester, Elgar suffering from bitter self-doubt and depression. Alice stood by him the entire time, her unfailing confidence restoring his spirits. He was further buoyed by the success of his Imperial March, Op. 32, which earned him a publisher and a vital friendship with August Jaeger, his editor and confidant. In 1899, Elgar composed one of his best-known works, the "Enigma" Variations, Op. 36, which catapulted him to fame. The work is a cryptic tribute to Alice and to the many friends who stood behind the composer in the shaky early days of his career. German conductor Hans Richter proclaimed it a masterpiece, and his performances of the work in Britain and Germany established the composer's lasting success.
Elgar's most fruitful period was the first decade of the twentieth century, during which he wrote some of his noblest, most expressive music, including the Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 (1907-1908), and the Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1909-1910). His best-known works from this period, however, are the first four of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901-1907); the first of these, subtitled "Land of Hope and Glory," became an unofficial second national anthem for the British Empire.
Elgar suffered a blow when Jaeger (the "Nimrod" of the "Enigma" Variations) died in 1909. The composer's productivity dropped, and the horrors of World War I deepened his melancholy outlook. His music became more intimate, even anguished; still, he wrote some of his best chamber music during this period, as well as the masterly Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 (1919), whose deep feeling of sadness and impending loss surely relates to the final illness of his faithful Alice, who died in 1920.
For some time after that, he wrote little of significance but made a historic foray into the recording studios when new electrical recording processes were developed; the fortunate result was a number of masterly interpretations of his own orchestral music that have survived for posterity. In the early '30s, Elgar set to work on a third symphony, left unfinished at his death in 1934. The work was brought to a generally well-received realization by Anthony Payne in the late '90s and was subsequently recorded. Read less
Elgar: Falstaff / Williams, Davis, BBC Philharmonic
Release Date: 11/03/2017   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 5188   Number of Discs: 1
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An Introduction to Edward Elgar
Release Date: 09/19/2006   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 2021   Number of Discs: 1
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Elgar: Caractacus & Severn Suite / Howarth, Hickox, London Symphony
Release Date: 08/26/2016   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 24158   Number of Discs: 2
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Elgar: The Black Knight / Hickox, London Symphony
Release Date: 08/04/2017   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10946   Number of Discs: 1
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Elgar: The Light Of Life / Hickox, Howarth, Finnie, Davies, Shirley-Quirk, LSO
Release Date: 07/31/2012   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10726   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Salut d'amour, Op. 12


About This Work
Edward Elgar's Salut d'amour is something of an oddity amongst nineteenth century salon music tidbits. Whereas most such pieces were originally composed for piano solo and then rearranged, usually by persons other than the composer, for all kinds of Read more other instrumental combinations, Salut d'amour was first a piece for violin and piano and only later rearranged for piano solo. But, as it was Elgar himself who did the rearranging (and also the orchestration when it came time to make a version for the symphony hall), there is interest in this second-thought piano version that might not normally be taken in such an after-the-fact arrangement.

Elgar composed Salut d'amour in 1888 for himself and his student, Caroline Alice Roberts (later, not coincidentally, Mrs. Edward Elgar) to play together -- she on piano, he on violin. It was Elgar's original wish that the piece be published with the title Liebesgrüss (which in German means essentially the same thing as Salut d'amour: Love's Greeting); but his publishers, though a German company asked that a French title be substituted, and in 1888 Elgar hardly had the clout to argue. He was happy just to receive a few pounds for the piece. Salut d'amour was immediately very successful in both the violin/piano and piano solo versions (and, a little while later, the cello/piano, viola/piano, flute/piano, voice/piano, and everything else/piano versions that popped up), and Elgar made decent money from it for decades.

In making the piano arrangement, Elgar transposed the music up from the original key of D major to E major. Otherwise the piece remains basically unchanged. It is a breezy Allegretto in three-part song form throughout, with a syncopated accompaniment rhythm bobbing underneath the melody. The opening tune is one of the sweetest little melodies imaginable (which is the main ingredient of Salut d'amour's century-and-a-quarter's worth of fame); it gently dips down a sixth and then back up again at the start of each phraselet. The music of the central section is built entirely from the kind of long-short-short dactylic rhythm that Schubert loved so much.

In the original violin and piano version of the piece, a pleasant imitative countermelody is added at the reprise of the opening music midway through the piece. Elgar kept this interest-building countermelody in his original solo piano version; but somewhere between his desk and the printing press it disappeared. It was not the only simplification made by his publishers: throughout the original edition of the solo piano version, the textures are thinner than Elgar wrote them, and during the little codetta that closes the piece, the important rising chromatic line (originally in the violin) is tragically absent. Happily, though, more recent editions of the solo piano version have restored, at least optionally, this missing material, allowing for a more taxing but much more wholesome reading.

-- Blair Johnston, All Music Guide Read less

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