Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait

 Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait

Published by Continuum Books ISBN 978 ­ 0 ­ 8264-9296-6

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Elgar. To celebrate the occasion, this series of new essays has been published, with contributions from a number of distinguished writers, among them musicians, composers and music directors.

Born in 1857, the son of a Worcester piano-tuner, Elgar's lower middleclass background set him apart from his musical contemporaries. His Catholicism made him more of an outsider. Yet he succeeded in becoming the greatest musical genius that England has produced since Purcell.

On embarking on this book I realised I should have read a more linear account of Elgar's life first. The essay format, each chapter focussing on a different theme ­ makes for some duplication of information from one to the next ­ while at the same time leaving some basic questions about Elgar's life unanswered.

To appreciate Christopher Kent's 'Elgar the Composer', Hans Keller's 'Elgar the Progressive' and others one needs some knowledge of music and must be able to read an orchestral score.

But Stephen Hough's 'Elgar the Catholic' is very accessible and gives some fascinating insights not only into Elgar but also Cardinal Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi ­ so influential on the 19th century Catholic Church in England.

While not a book for beginners, this anniversary portrait is a fitting tribute to Elgar in this anniversary year and a useful addition to the body of work written about him.

first posted LONDON - 13 June 2007 - 232 words

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