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Sunday, 28 December 2014

Edward Elgar

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was born on June 2, 1857 in Broadheath, Worcestershire to the owner of a music shop, William and Ann, the daughter of a farm worker.

Elgar's birthplace, Lower Broadheath

Apart from having violin lessons Elgar was self-taught.. He studied the printed music in his father’s shop and often travelled with him when he went on his rounds to tune pianos in the Worcestershire grand houses.

In his youth Elgar worked as a violinist before becoming conductor of the Worcester Glee Club and the County Asylum Band, and organist of St George's Roman Catholic Church.

In 1889 Elgar wed a pupil of his, Caroline Alice Roberts, who was 8 years older than he him. They married at Brompton Oratory. Her family did not approve of their match, and disinherited her,

Alice was a good wife to him and encouraged him in his efforts to be a successful composer. She acted as Elgar's business manager and helped him by ruling neat manuscript lines on plain paper so that he could write his music.

In 1899 Elgar wrote an orchestral piece, the Enigma Variations. Its variations are based on the countermelody to an unheard theme, a supposedly well-known tune that Elgar never identified. Each variation describes one of his friends, but he did not say which friends they were: he only put their initials or nickname at the top of each variation.

Elgar’s most popular piece is the first of his five Pomp and Circumstance Marches. It has the tune which is sung to the words “Land of Hope and Glory” and the audience always join in singing it at the Last Night of the Proms. Also American high school, college, and university graduates often march down the aisles of auditoriums to the work.


The poet and essayist Arthur Benson, wrote the words to "Land Of Hope And Glory." He was the older brother of the Mapp and Lucia author EF Benson.

Elgar was the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of acoustic recordings of his works.

Edward Elgar, c. 1900

Elgar used to take his three dogs for long drives in his open-topped car…all wearing goggles.

He spent many happy hours bowling along country lanes on his fixed-wheel Royal Sunbeam bicycle. Elgar loved cycling and claimed it inspired his music.

Statue of Elgar with bicycle in Hereford. By Oliver Dixon, Wikipedia Commons

Elgar tried to invent a self-adjusting kite, but this merely resulted in bringing down his neighbor's chimneys.

The composer enjoyed a wide range of interests away from music including chemistry and microscope work. In the 1900s Elgar spent much time in his laboratory, which he dubbed ‘The Ark’, where he conducted experiments and even made some soap.

Elgar was a keen Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, one of a founder members of the Football League in 1888, and often cycled over 40 miles from his home in Malvern, Worcestershire, to watch his team play. Elgar wrote the song "He Banged The Leather For Goal"  in honor of an 1890s striker, Billy Malpass.

His greatest love was horse racing. Famously, Elgar dashed off to the races after a first meeting with the 15-year-old Yehudi Menuhin.

All his life Elgar was a keen race-goer, disguising his identity with bookmakers by using false names. One of these, ‘Siromoris’, is a palindrome based on two of his honours, the knighthood (‘Sir’) and the Order of Merit (‘OM’)

After the death of Alice in 1920 Elgar was so heartbroken that he stopped composing.

Edward Elgar died on February 23, 1934. Inoperable colorectal cancer had been discovered during an operation four and a half months earlier, He was buried next to his wife at St. Wulstan's Church in Little Malvern.

Elgar family grave at St Wulstan's Church, Little Malvern. By Bob Embleton, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikipedia Commons

Source Classic FM Magazine

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