English composer. Although his celebrated oratorio The Dream of Gerontius (1900), based on the written work by the theologian John Henry Newman, was initially unpopular in Britain, its good reception in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1902 led to a surge of interest in his earlier works, including the Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901). His Enigma Variations (1899) brought him lasting fame.
Among his works are oratorios, two symphonies, a violin concerto, chamber music, songs, the symphonic poem Falstaff (1902–13), and the moving Cello Concerto of 1919. After this piece, Elgar did not publish any more important music. He concentrated on transcriptions and made some early gramophone recordings of his own work.
Elgar was the son of a music dealer who was also organist at St George's Roman Catholic church, Worcester. He was self-taught as a composer, and at the age of 12 wrote music for a little domestic play, The Wand of Youth. He was sent to work in a solicitor's office at 15, though he preferred to help at his father's shop. From the age of 16 he was employed locally as a teacher, played bassoon in a wind quintet, and joined the Worcester Glee Club. In 1879 he became a leader of the Worcester Philharmonic and was conductor of the Glee Club and of the band at the county lunatic asylum at Powick, for which he arranged much music. He also played organ at his father's church and became a member of W C Stockley's orchestra in Birmingham, which gave the first public performance of his Sérénade mauresque. In 1889 he married Caroline Alice Roberts and they lived in London until 1891.
In 1890 the Three Choirs Festival (held at Worcester that year) included for the first time a work of his, the Froissart overture (1890). This is the first work that shows Elgar's skill in orchestration. Choral works, including Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf (1896) and Caractacus (1898), were heard at festivals, and the Enigma Variations for orchestra were conducted by Hans Richter in 1899. The Dream of Gerontius was produced at the Birmingham Festival in 1900 and at the Lower Rhine Festival, Düsseldorf, in 1901 and 1902. An Elgar Festival at the Covent Garden Theatre, London, in 1904 brought him greater recognition, and he was knighted that year. He was professor of music at Birmingham University in 1905–06.
His first symphony was performed under Hans Richter in Manchester and London in 1908, and its immense success led to 100 further performances throughout Europe. Fritz Kreisler premiered the violin concerto in 1910. During World War I, Elgar wrote much topical music and afterwards the cello concerto and three chamber works. After the death of his wife in 1920 he wrote only some small pieces and incidental music. He was Master of the King's Music from 1924. At his death he left unfinished a third symphony and an opera, The Spanish Lady, based on Ben Jonson's play The Devil is an Ass.
Elgar's songs, chamber music, and smaller works are often poetic, but add nothing to a reputation founded on Gerontius, the symphonies, and the symphonic study Falstaff, which reveal a highly individual mastery of orchestration.
WorksOrchestral two symphonies (1908, 1911); concert overtures Cockaigne (1901) and In the South (1904); many miscellaneous orchestral works, including Enigma Variations (1899), Introduction and Allegro for strings (1905), and the symphonic study Falstaff (1902–13); Pomp and Circumstance Marches (nos. 1 and 2, 1901; no. 3, 1904; no. 4, 1907; no. 5, 1930); violin concerto (1910), cello concerto (1919).
Vocal cantatas Caractacus (1898), The Music Makers (1902–12); oratorios The Dream of Gerontius (1900), The Apostles (1903), The Kingdom (1901–06).
Chamber string quartet, E minor, piano quintet, A minor (1919), violin and piano sonata, E minor (1918).
Other songs for solo voice, including cycle Sea Pictures with piano or orchestra (1897–99); Severn Suite for brass band (1930).
Elgar, Edward (William)
Elgar Society and Elgar Foundation
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