The English composer Edward Elgar was born on this day in 1857.
To simply know Elgar as “the graduation guy” is a major disservice to this man’s fascinating life story. The son of an instrument shop owner, Elgar learned a bit of music from his father and apparently had some lessons in London, but was largely a self-taught composer. He was something of an anomaly as a Roman Catholic in largely Anglican England, as well as coming from the working class, both of which added to his struggles in Victorian England and resulted in publishers sometimes reacting frostily to his work. The latter meant that he had to consistently work for a living, taking such odd jobs as band leader at the Worcester Insane Asylum!
Today, as well being known for “The Land of Hope and Glory” from Pomp and Circumstance, he is well-known for his Enigma Variations. These were based on a still-unknown piece of music and each dedicated to the people who had stood by him in times of difficulty, with the first being dedicated to his wife Caroline Alice Elgar (nee Roberts). Both of these pieces finally brought him widespread success.
As well as being a noted composer, Elgar had interest in all manner of subjects. He was an early proponent of recorded music, and near the end of his life got a chance to listen to his own music recorded at Abbey Road Studios. He also had an interest in cryptography based on letters to friends, something brought up by many seeking the truth behind the Enigma Variations. Perhaps most peculiarly, Elgar was an amateur chemist, and after achieving some success and consequently having more time on his hands began experimenting with chemical mixtures. Apparently one of his favorite mixtures was a highly explosive one–which at one point resulted in an explosion in his own yard!
One of my personal favorite pieces of his is the Introduction and Allegro for Strings.
What is your favorite work by Sir Elgar?
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- Lunday, Elizabeth. The Secret Lives of Great Composers. Philadelphia, Quirk Productions, 2009. “Edward William Elgar” pp 146-150