Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet was a famous English composer, who was revered for his incredible musical talents. Many of his compositions found place in the British and international classical concert repertoire. His popular works include the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, two symphonies and concertos for violin and cello. He had composed choral works as well, the popular one being ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, chamber music and songs. He was appointed Master of the King's Musick, a prestigious position bestowed by the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, in 1924. He was largely self-taught and thus, did not belong to an academic-dominated music circle. He was largely influence by the European style than the English style. This, along with certain other factors led him to feel that he is an outsider both musically and socially. Read on to know the life and career of this music genius.
Edward Elgar was born as fourth child to William Henry Elgar and Ann Greening, on 2nd June 1857, in Lower Broadheath, England. Edward Elgar’s Father, William Elgar was working as a piano tuner. Ann Greening was Elgar’s mother. Elgar had six siblings; all of them had a natural inclination towards music. His mother converted to Roman Catholicism and Elgar was baptized and brought up as a Roman Catholic, in spite of his father’s disapproval. As his father William Elgar tuned pianos in any big houses in Worcestershire, Edward Elgar got many opportunities to display his piano talents to important local personalities. Along with being an amazing music enthusiast, Elgar had a taste for literature, which he inherited from his mother. Elgar was a child prodigy; he composed music for a play which the Elgar children acted in. He rearranged this music with only minor changes, after forty years and published it with the title “The Wand of Youth”.
Elgar received his education from Littleton (Lyttleton) House school, Worchester. He received advanced violin studies under Adolf Pollitzer during 1877-78, when Pollitzer visited London and this was the only advanced music training he received, apart from the basic piano and violin lessons. Elgar was largely self-educated and he learnt the theories of music through manuals of instruction on organ playing. He read every book on music he could, that came cross him. Elgar wished to join Leipzig Conservatory, the University of Music and theater and he started learning German for that but, he could not fulfill this dream due to financial incapability. Thus in 1872, abandoning his dreams and joined the office of a local solicitor as a clerk. However, he was determined about pursuing career in music. It was his passion for music that pulled him to go by the way of music, leaving the job with solicitor. He started giving piano and violin lessons along with working in his father’s shop. He availed membership in the Glee club and accompanied singers playing violin for them. He composed, arranged and conducted along with this. He had listened to many virtuosi playing violin at London concerts and believed that his play lacked enough tone and thus, chose to abandon his aspirations with violin. He then joined the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum as a conductor in 1879. There Elgar trained the players along with writing and arranging concerts. He remained in that post for the next five years, till 1884.
Marriage and Personal Life
Elgar married Caroline Alice Roberts, daughter of Major General Sir Henry Roberts, on 8th May 1889. Elgar was at the age of 29 then, and Alice was of 36, eight years elder to him. Alice became his business manager and social secretary after marriage. She was a perspective music critic and also, knew how to deal with Elgar’s mood swings. His work “Salut d’Amour was dedicated to her. The couple’s only daughter Carice Irene was born on 14th august 1890. In 1904 Elgar and family moved to a large house at Plas Gwyn and lived there till 1911.
Elgar was a person of introspective nature and preferred to remain solitary but, despite this, he thrived in the music circles of Worcester because of his unparalleled musical skills. He played violin in Birmingham and Worcester festivals and also for Dvorak’s ‘Symphony No.6’ and ‘Stabat Mater’, where the composer himself moved the baton. He arranged many pieces by great musicians like Mozart, Beethoven, haydn etc. which helped him bring his compositional skills to perfection. Interestingly, He was an amateur chemist too and held experiment sin his backyard.
Elgar became popular by 1890s and started building reputation as composer and won recognition for his performances in great choral festival of the English Midlands. His next work, John Henry Newman’s poem “The dream of Gerontius” was a musical masterpiece but, this was badly sung by the chorus and hence, did not come up to the expectations. This work, despite of the bad singing, was recognized by the critics. Elgar best known for his musical series “Pomp and Circumstance Marches” composed during 1901 and 1930. Elgar was at his pinnacle of popularity during the span 1902 to 1914. Elgar’s major work ‘Introduction and Allegro for Strings’ was dedicated to Samuel Sanford, a professor at Yale University. Another large scale work by Elgar was ‘The Kingdom’, a sequel to ‘The Apostles’. Elgar’s last popular work was the violin concerto commissioned by Fritz Kreisler. He then conducted a recording work for the Gramophone Company.
Elgar lost his wife in 1920 and this incident shattered him deeply. He he deflected from composing sold his house and moved to the village of Kempsey. Hee wrote eight songs for Pagent of Empire which got published in 1924 and shortly after this; he was appointed Master of the King’s Musick. Elgar was filmed by Pathe in 1931, for a newsreel describing the recording of ‘Pomp and Circumstance March No.1’ and this is probably the only surviving sound film of him. He worked with BBC as well.
Elgar died of intestinal cancer in 1933. He died few months later, on 23rd February 1934, aged seventy-six. He was buried to rest at St. Wulstan’s Church in Little Malvern. The house in Lower Broadheath, where Elgar was born, has now been converted into a museum where his works are exhibited.
Elgar’s work was recognized by allowing performing them in the Covent Garden and this was never granted to any other English composer. Adding to his reputation, the king and queen attended the function.
He was appointed as the Peyton Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham.
The Buckingham palace honored Elgar by knighting him, 1904.
Elgar was appointed a member of the Order of Merit in connection with the coronation ceremony of King George V, 1911.
Elgar received the Cross of Commander of the Belgian Order of the Crown, 1920.
Elgar was appointed Master of the King’s Musick, 1924.
Elgar received the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society 1925.
Elgar was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO), 1928.
Elgar received honorary degrees from many universities - the Universities of Cambridge, Durham, Leeds, Oxford, Yale (USA), Aberdeen, Western Pennsylvania (USA), Birmingham and London.
Elgar was awarded memberships for foreign academies like Regia Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome; American Academy of Arts, Accademia del Reale Istituto Musicale, Florence; Institut de France and Académie des Beaux Arts, Paris.
Elgar was made a Baronet of Broadheath in the County of Worcester, 1930.
Elgar was promoted to Knight Grand Cross (GCVO), within the Royal Victorian Order 1933.
A big statue of Elgar stands facing the cathedral, yards away from where his father's shop once stood.
There are about 65 roads in the United Kingdom which are named after Elgar.
1857: Edward Elgar was born in Lower Broadheath, England.
1872: Elgar joined as a clerk in the office of a local solicitor.
1879: Elgar joined the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum as a conductor.
1889: Elgar married Caroline Alice Roberts.
1890 The couple’s only daughter Carice Irene was born.
1904: Elgar and family moved to a large house at Plas Gwyn and lived there till 1911, the same year Buckingham palace honored him by knighting him.
1911: Elgar was appointed to the Order of Merit in connection with the coronation ceremony of King George V.
1920: Elgar received the Cross of Commander of the Belgian Order of the Crown.
1924: Elgar was appointed Master of the King’s Musick.
1925: Elgar received the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society.
1928: Elgar was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO).
1930: Elgar was made a Baronet of Broadheath in the County of Worcester.
1933: Elgar was promoted to Knight Grand Cross (GCVO), within the Royal Victorian Order.
1934: Elgar died of intestinal cancer.