Sir Edward Elgar

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Essential Albums

  • Elgar: Enigma Variations, Introduction & Allegro (Live)
  • Elgar: Cello Concerto, Op. 85 & Sea Pictures, Op. 37

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About Sir Edward Elgar

When Edward Elgar’s orchestral Enigma Variations made him internationally famous in 1899, England had not produced a world-class composer since the death of Henry Purcell in 1695. Elgar was born in rural Worcestershire in 1857, the son of a music-shop owner and his Roman Catholic wife; while still young he became a professional-standard violinist, but as a composer he struggled with issues of self-belief and, as he saw it, class and religious prejudice in late-Victorian English society. The originality of Enigma Variations—where each different take on its opening theme (representing Elgar himself) is a musical portrait of one of his friends—announced the breakthrough of an authentic English musical voice, ranging from roistering energy to sensitive melancholy. More masterpieces followed, including the choral oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, two big-scale symphonies, and concertos for violin and cello; and the central tune of Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, with its added words “Land of Hope and Glory” (not by Elgar himself), became an instant British Empire smash hit. After the death of Elgar’s wife, Alice, in 1920, he composed much less, instead living as a well-off country gentleman and conducting gramophone recordings of his works. Old age then saw the creative spark returning, and Elgar started on a Third Symphony that he didn’t live to complete.

Broadheath, near Worcester, England
June 2, 1857

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