Ken Russell's 1962 biography of the composer Edward Elgar, featuring reconstructed events in his life using actors and made for the 100th edition of documentary strand, Monitor.
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RAPID MUSIC FOR STRINGS
When Elgar was a boy, he spent hours on his own,
riding on his father's pony along the ridges of the Malvern Hills.
Elgar was born in 1857,
in the shadow of the hills which were to have such an influence on his music all through his life.
There was little enough in his circumstances
to suggest the future Sir Edward Elgar, Master of the King's Music.
He grew up in Worcester, a stuffy enough place in those days,
a place for the rich and the well-to-do and the Elgars were neither.
Their social status was clear.
They were a lower middle-class family.
Elgar's father kept a little music shop in the high street.
By trade he was a piano tuner.
Elgar was almost entirely self-taught.
HE PLAYS TRUMPET
His teachers were the books and instruments lying about in the shop.
HE PLAYS THE FLUTE
He was apparently one of those people to whom playing an instrument came naturally.
HE PLAYS THE VIOLIN
He said later that his knowledge of orchestration was founded
on these childhood experiences.
The family lived above the shop.
Father, mother and five children - all musical.
They had musical evenings twice a week.
Elgar's first-known composition was a song he wrote for his sister Lucy to sing on her 21st birthday.
He was 15.
He wrote the words as well as the music and it was called The Language Of Flowers.
# The rose is a sign of joy and love
# Young blushing love in its earliest dawn
# And the mildness that suits the gentle dove
# From the myrtle snowy flower is drawn
# And the mildness that suits the gentle dove
# From the myrtle snowy flower is dra-awn. #
He wrote music for everybody in the household, including a two-part fugue
which he wrote for a lodger who played the violin and for his brother Frank who played the oboe.
THEY PLAY VIOLIN AND OBOE DUET
This was an academic exercise.
But there was no question of his going to any academy or university.
And at 15 or 16 he started to serve behind the counter
at his father's shop.
He became a high-spirited and very boisterous young man, much given to what he called japes -
dressing up and jumping out of trees on to the backs of his friends and so on.
CHORAL AND ORGAN MUSIC
On Sundays he played the organ at the Catholic church.
He was born and bred a Roman Catholic
and it was no accident that the motets and anthems he wrote for this church
are the first works which reveal the note of an independent musical mind in the making.
THEY PLAY ORCHESTRAL PIECE
He also took up small-time conducting.
His first official conducting appointment
was with the band of the local Powick Lunatic Asylum
for whom he also wrote the music.
Elgar walked the three miles to the asylum
twice a week for seven years.
For every quadrille and polka he was paid five shillings.
For accompaniments to the black and white minstrel songs, then in fashion, he got 1/6.
Serious composing was still a dream.
By now he was becoming much in demand as a music teacher.
And what with that and his bold good looks,
he cut quite a dashing figure.
With four friends he formed a serenading group.
Elgar wrote the music and played the bassoon
and they played, either for their own amusement, or in a mildly flirtatious way to young women
of their acquaintance.
WOODWIND QUINTET PLAYS
In 1886 when he was 29
Elgar met the woman who was to transform his life.
For 10 years his horizon had been firmly bounded by the Malvern Hills.
He was full of music and full of ambition
but somehow lacked the drive to cut himself loose.
Miss Roberts was to change all this.
Caroline Alice was her name and she was a Major-General's daughter.
Eight years older than Elgar, she'd taken lessons on the piano from him
and like many pupils before her she fell in love with him.
She'd been brought up in a family dedicated to the ideal of service
but hitherto her life, though earnest, had seemed purposeless.
Now she'd found a cause and a worthy one at that.
She would marry Elgar and make him a great composer.
MUSIC: "Salut d'Amour"
Her influence on Elgar's music was immediate.
This piece, Salut d'Amour, was written by Elgar as an engagement present for her.
MUSIC: "Salut d'Amour" - orchestral version
"We rode up to the beacon on donkeys," Elgar wrote on a postcard. "Never have I been so happy."
"I must tell you," he wrote to another friend, "what a dear, loving companion I have,
"and how sweet everything seems and how understandable existence seems to have grown."
It was a long and difficult courtship.
Alice had the hostility of her family to contend with.
They disapproved violently of her marrying this music teacher
with his boisterous ways and his dubious prospects.
Who was, moreover, a tradesman's son and a Roman Catholic.
MUSIC: "Salut d'Amour"
Against all opposition, they were finally married in 1889.
He was 32 and she was 40
and she was immediately disinherited by her family.
They spent their honeymoon placidly at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight.
Elgar gave up all his teaching jobs in Worcestershire
and full of hopes for the future they set out for London.
Their plan, Mrs Elgar's plan,
was to finish with music teaching and concentrate on composing.
But London in 1890 was not impressed by Mr Elgar from Worcester.
At his wife's suggestion, he brought with him a whole portfolio of compositions -
solemn music mostly like Salut d'Amour -
and these he sent off to a dozen different publishers.
There was little he could do except sit back and wait.
And as the manuscripts were returned with a deadening regularity, their optimism slowly drained away.
It was an anxious time.
There was no income coming in and they couldn't afford their lease.
Mrs Elgar was now pregnant and couldn't conceal her anxiety and depression from her diary.
All her plans were coming to nothing.
At long last a chance came his way.
Elgar was invited to rehearse one of his pieces with a big London orchestra.
If it was liked, it would be performed at one of the promenade concerts held at Covent Garden.
It was a turning point.
Elgar arrived at the opera house
and had to wait till the orchestra finished its routine rehearsal.
He'd already been waiting some time when an official spoke to him.
The great Sir Arthur Sullivan had arrived unexpectedly
and wanted to run through things with the orchestra,
so there was not question of Mr Elgar's music being tried out. He was so very sorry.
He became ill as well as depressed.
He suffered a good deal from a septic wisdom tooth
and his eyes began to trouble him which would last all his life. He went to as many concerts as he could,
and practised the violin for many hours a day, but recognition as a composer did not come.
Desperate for work, he advertised in the London press
offering himself as a teacher of violin and orchestration.
He didn't get a single reply.
Mrs Elgar was no happier
and she was forced to sell some of her own pieces of personal jewellery.
It was a sacrifice and it wasn't enough to keep them warm. "The winter has been truly awful," wrote Elgar.
"The fogs are terrifying and make us very ill. Yesterday all day
"and today until two we've been in a sort of yellow darkness."
Mrs Elgar noted in her diary,
"This was the coldest day I have ever felt. It was the last day of 1890.
"I could have died with the cold."
There was only one thing to do and that was to cut their losses.
The "house to let" sign went up in their home in West Kensington
and the Elgars, disillusioned and despondent, went back to Worcestershire.
There was no pony any more, but Elgar bought himself a bike
and despite all setbacks, almost certainly felt an enormous relief.
Elgar's head was still full of great orchestral themes,
not one of which he'd so far ever heard played.
"My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around me,"
he once said. "I do all my composing in the open. At home, all I have to do is write it down."
They re-established themselves in Malvern
and Elgar went back to teaching. The long climb to recognition began once more.
Life was dull, provincial and frustrating
teaching schoolgirls to play the violin and conducting amateurs in poky choirs and orchestras.
After the birth of their daughter, his wife was always by his side.
She played the piano at his music lessons, kept the accounts
and neglected no occasion to push her husband forward.
She was absolutely determined that he should be a success.
Elgar himself was full of doubt about his chances of getting a hearing,
but she remained quietly and relentlessly persistent.
She wrote to music publishers, corrected the proofs of such little pieces that he got accepted
and even ruled out the music staves on plain paper
because they couldn't afford the proper manuscript.
She forced him to work when it would have been easy to give up.
The music began to flow and in A Serenade For Strings
written to celebrate their third wedding anniversary,
it was a new and richer stream of melody than ever before.
In the year that he composed the Serenade For Strings,
Elgar took a job as a violinist at the Three Choirs Festival
because, as he wrote in his diary, "I could obtain no recognition as a composer."
Four years later, and he was 39 by now,
public recognition still hadn't come.
His background, his lack of connections and his religion were all against him.
Perhaps it was his wife who suggested a new line of attack, who knows?
But in the spring of 1897, working in a bell tent that had belonged to the Major General, his father-in-law,
he composed an Imperial March in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
For some reason, this march, now virtually forgotten,
immediately caught the public imagination in that Jubilee year.
It was played everywhere and reflected the buoyant spirits and appetite for imperial glory
that were very much part of Elgar's complicated make up.
It was frankly popular music and it matched the mood of the day.
IMPERIAL MARCH PLAYS
The Imperial March was a success.
It brought passing glory but nothing in the way of hard cash.
Nevertheless, money or no money, he went on composing.
He rented a little cottage which looked out onto the Malvern Hills
and this was to be his powerhouse for the next ten years.
Here he wrote Caractacus, the Enigma Variations
and in 1900, The Dream of Gerontius.
They went without fires for 12 months while he was composing it.
The text was a poem by Cardinal Newman which Elgar had been given on his wedding day.
It tells of the death of Gerontius
and the experiences of his spirit on its way to his god.
Elgar was moved by it to compose as never before. "This is what I hear all day," he wrote,
"The trees are singing my music or have I sung theirs?"
He worked fast, always composing in the open air, writing it down at night, turning from public pomp
towards the private agony and ecstasy of a worldly soul in purgatory and beyond.
It was an intensely visionary and an intensely Catholic work
and Elgar was in no doubt about its stature.
"This is the best of me," he wrote, quoting Ruskin at the end of the score.
"For the rest, I ate, I drank, I slept, I loved, I hated as another.
"My life is a vapour and is not. This is what I saw and know.
"This, if anything of mine, is worth your memory."
# Sanctus fortis
# Sanctus Deus
# De profundis
# Oro te
# Judex meus
# Mortis in discrimine... #
"This, if anything, is worth your memory," he'd said.
But the first performance of Gerontius was a disaster.
"I have worked hard for 40 years,
"and at the last, Providence denies me a decent hearing of my work."
It was left to Germany and the Germans to confirm what Mrs Elgar had been saying for 12 years -
England had a great composer.
Elgar's music was suddenly discovered by the famous German composer Hans Richter.
Gerontius was performed at Dusseldorf in the presence of the composer and his wife.
A terrific German enthusiasm flared up, culminating in a speech by Richard Strauss the composer
who hailed Elgar as the first modern genius of English music.
The Elgars were inveterate postcard writers and their postcards to their daughter at home
told of triumph after triumph.
"Most splendid evening. Beautiful performance received with rapture.
"Father shouted for again and again.
"So glad to have your letter. Weather dreadful.
"A great supper during the festival this evening.
"At rehearsal they cheered and cheered,
"wish you were here. Much love."
"Delighted to tell you performance glorious.
"Last evening, audience so astounded. We are so thankful.
"We had a delightful supper party. Not back until 1.30."
At last, Elgar had arrived and with a bang. But only in Germany.
Back home with his daughter, Elgar took up kite flying
and as usual, went headlong into a new hobby.
His friends were worried about his career
but he was to confound them by using their very doubts and worries,
their personal characters, as material for a set of variations on an original theme.
It was these Enigma Variations that finally got him recognised in England.
The character of Caroline Alice his wife, inspired the first of the variations.
Richard Arnold, son of Matthew Arnold,
solemn and witty by turns provided another, as did Basil Nevinson
cello player and devoted friend of the composer.
A bulldog belonging to the organist of Hereford Cathedral was the subject of a fourth.
There were 13 all told
but the character that emerged most strongly, the key to the Enigma,
was Edward Elgar himself - confident and masterful.
What had happened so sensationally in Germany was now happening in England.
Almost overnight, the unknown Mr Elgar became the great Sir Edward Elgar.
Within three years, he was firmly established as a major international figure.
His portrait was hung in Windsor Castle, he hobnobbed with kings.
The great roll call of honours started. He was honoured by universities and states worldwide.
"He deserves all these honours," wrote Sir Hubert Parry.
"In his music, he has reached to the hearts of the people."
"The triumph is yours as well as his," Elgar's nearest friend told Lady Elgar.
On the face of it, she now had all she wanted -
a big new house in Hereford - Elgar could live the life of a country gentleman.
But success having come, Elgar was not happy.
Behind the facade of new prosperity, there were constant money worries.
The house was bigger than they could afford.
His illnesses became chronic and his inspiration came only in fits and starts.
"I see nothing in the future," he wrote, "except a black stone wall
"against which I am longing to dash my head."
To his wife he talked sometimes of suicide.
By turns boisterous and lugubrious, impulsive and reserved
he drew apart from the world.
One extraordinary method of withdrawal this time
was into a new hobby - a sort of DIY chemistry.
He tried to make a new kind of soap and actually did invent and patent
a thing called the Elgar Sulphurated Hydrogen Apparatus.
Yet these were the years of Elgar's finest works -
the symphonies, the Violin Concerto, Falstaff and the rest.
Side by side with these schoolboy pranks and these black despairs
there was a deep faith in humanity.
"There is no programme in my music," he said, "beyond a wide experience of human life
"with a great charity and love and a massive hope in the future."
Three years later in 1910, he was much less hopeful.
The period was opulent but he'd become anxious and uneasy.
These times are cruel and gloomy.
He'd come to see himself increasingly as a kind of Poet Laureate of music
and in his Second Symphony he'd originally set out to celebrate the idea of monarchy
but with the death of Edward VII and his own mounting feelings of anxiety
it became an elegy, charged with what WB Yeats called Elgar's heroic melancholy -
an elegy for the passing of an age and a warning.
It was as if he sensed disaster in the air.
"We walk," he said, "like ghosts."
SYMPHONY NUMBER 2 PLAYS
ELGAR'S SYMPHONY NUMBER 2 CONTINUES
In 1914, the tensions were released
and a song which Elgar had written in one of his exuberant moods in 1901
at the time of the Boer War became a rallying call to a nation.
Elgar was delighted. "I look on the composer's job," he once said,
"as the old Troubadours did. In those days it was no disgrace
"for a man to be turned on to step in front of an army and inspire them with a song.
"For my part, I know there are a lot of people who like to celebrate events with music.
"To these people, I have given tunes."
MARCH NUMBER 1 PLAYS: "Land of Hope And Glory"
"A tune like this only comes once in a lifetime," he once said.
He was proud of his marches. The words were not his and he disapproved of them as too jingoistic.
There would come a time when Elgar could no longer bear what would become a second national anthem.
There was a terrible irony in having a march written in the dashing, glinting days of 1900
used as a battle hymn against the nation he loved so much,
used almost as an accompaniment to the growing horror of World War I.
ELGAR'S MARCH NUMBER 1 PLAYS: "Land of Hope And Glory"
As the gates of Armageddon opened in France,
Elgar, too old to serve, left London for Sussex and turned from chamber music to sonatas and quintets.
Nothing, however, could sever the public's association of Elgar with his Boer War marching song.
And the irony to a man who had sensed the disaster to come and felt its impact became abominable.
ELGAR'S MARCH NUMBER 1 CONTINUES
The relief of the armistice was not shared by Elgar.
During the early fighting he'd written various patriotic pieces
but fewer and fewer as the war dragged on.
Now in 1918, he was invited to write an anthem for peace.
He refused point blank.
Official music had become an abomination.
He had rented a cottage in the middle of a wood and in 1919
he put all his sadness and desolation into a cello concerto, his last great work.
MUSIC: "Cello Concerto in E Minor" by Elgar
In 1920 came the deepest grief of all,
the death, quite suddenly, of his wife Alice.
He put their London home in shrouds and lived in a corner of the house.
He buried all his honours in his wife's coffin
and composed nothing, his only musical activity was to arrange a Bach organ work for full orchestra.
He turned now not to chemistry but to biology,
kept three microscopes on an unused billiards table
and got some kind of solace from the cold and abstract patterns of life thus revealed.
# Land of hope and glory
# Mother of the free... #
In 1924, he was called on to conduct his music at the Royal opening of the Wembley Empire Exhibition.
Elgar had planned to perform some new music, "But the king," he wrote, "insists on Land of Hope.
"Music is dying fast in this country.
"Everything seems so hopelessly and irredeemably vulgar in court."
The whole clatter and bang of Wembley he found intolerable.
He described his feelings during the royal parade. "I was in the middle of the enormous stadium,
"surrounded by all the ridiculous court programme, aeroplanes circling, loudspeakers, amplifiers
"all mechanical and horrible. No soul, no romance and no imagination."
MUSIC: "Land Of Hope And Glory"
# Lord who made thee mighty
# Make thee mighty again. #
CHILDREN SING: # Lord who made thee mighty
# Make thee mighty... #
TENOR SINGS: # Lord who made thee mighty
# Make thee mighty again! #
Elgar could stand it no more, and this time he left London for good,
driving back to the Malvern Hills alone except for his dogs.
He had loved dogs all his life. His wife had hated them and wouldn't allow one in the house.
Now he was never without them - his only companions.
Elgar had gone back to his roots, to Worcester.
There he lived out his life as a country gentleman.
Further honours came his way, he'd become a member of the Order of Merit
and had been honoured by a dozen universities. Now he was a baronet
and a master of the King's music.
But the cold wind of indifference blew over his public reputation.
When he went occasionally to London to conduct a concert of his music,
it was, wrote Constance Lambert,
"as if one of the classical composers had appeared to conduct a work of another age."
The times were out of sympathy with a full-blooded romantic
and the drum-beating patriot and the religious visionary
and Elgar had been all three.
In the year he wrote his first symphony
it had been played 82 times all over the world, from St Petersburg to Pennsylvania.
He probably was the last great composer to be in touch with the people,
but now the rare Elgar concerts were half-empty.
In the early '30s, when he was rising 75,
Elgar took on a brief new lease of life - a lively friendship with Bernard Shaw
and the excitement of working once more on his violin concerto with a young Yehudi Menuhin
and sketches for a new symphony and an opera.
But it was too late. The illnesses which had haunted him all his life
took their final grip and he was forced to take to his bed.
He arranged it so that through the window he could see Worcester Cathedral
and the Malvern hills beyond. There, he lay for hour after hour
listening to recordings of his music and according to his own account
drifting through his memories in search of those moments
and people and places that had brought him happiness and fulfilment.
MUSIC: "Enigma Variations" by Elgar
STATIC FROM NEEDLE
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2007
Ken Russell's classic 1962 biography of the composer Edward Elgar, which includes reconstructed events in his life using actors and was made for the 100th edition of the pioneering documentary strand, Monitor.