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Elgar and "Title" music


We think primarily of Elgar as a "serious' composer and, whether listening, reading or writing, concentrate on his major choral, chamber and orchestral works. But a substantial part of Elgar's output was of course light music.

'Light Music' can include: orchestral music which is primarily for entertainment, pictorial suites and genre movements and its more domestic counterpart for solo instruments or small groups like the piano trio (often there were arrangements, formal and informal between the two); the lighter end of the song repertoire, familiarly called ballads much film and TV music' the lighter end of music for the theatre, operetta, musicals and much incidental and ballet music; and a great deal of band music military and brass.

Elgar contributed to most of these sub-genres. He wrote no film music, although if he had lived a few more years he may well have done so - Arthur Bliss's fine music for Things to Come in 1935 was perhaps a watershed for major symphonic composers writing for the screen - and he would surely have enjoyed coping with its special problems and disciplines.

He is known to the military band world only through transcriptions, although some of these like, for example, The Crown of India March (by Frank Winterbottom), the Severn Suite (by Henry Geehl) and others we mention later, were by notable figures in that field.

Elgar wrote no operetta, although The Starlight Express is something more than incidental music (perhaps we may dub it a "musical"?) and he certainly composed for the ballet (The Sanguine Fan and perhaps The Crown of India, described as a "masque" and incidental music for the theatre Grania and Diarmid, the source of one of his finer marches; Arthur, whose music he was later to dust down when essaying his Third Symphony; and Beau Brummel which inspired an elegant pastiche minuet (so many British light music composers have been adept at writing period pastiches ), although none of Elgar's theatre scores attained the popularity of the incidental music of Edward German, or Norman O'Neill even, in their day, Alfred Reynolds.

Nearly all of Elgar's solo songs - I except the Sea Pictures, of course, and perhaps also the Opus 59 and 60 songs - are classifiable as ballads, with lyrics which are at best second-rate poetry but which do not get in the way of a good, indeed often a characteristically Elgarian, tune. It is surprising that of them only the Shepherd's Song and maybe Pleading have achieved anything like the popularity of "classics" of the ballad genre like Roses of Picardy (Haydn Wood), Sing Joyous Bird (Montague Phillips), Until and Friend O' Mine (Wilfrid Sanderson), The Floral Dance (Katie Moss), and Green Hills of Somerset (Eric Coates), to name but a few.

And so we come to Elgar's orchestral and instrumental light music. Much light music can be related to music written for children and other amateurs, even music avowedly for teaching purposes, because of its simplicity and directness of appeal. One thinks of the output of W H Squire, W H Reed, Harry Farjeon, and Thomas Dunhill, for instance. Many of Elgar's shorter early pieces were for violin and piano and were

piano clearly by-products of his days as a violin teacher. All are light music, although not all achieved wide popularity in public concerts, possibly because only some were orchestrated. The popular titles I can think of are Chanson de Matin, Chanson de Nuit, Salut d'Amour (which may have been a piano, rather than a violin and piano original), Mot d'Amour (but Arthur Wood's orchestration was never very popular) and, with Henry Geehl doing the honours, the Idylle from Opus 4. Only La Capricieuse has remained relatively more popular in its original form over the whole period since it was written; nowadays we do sometimes hear the others in their original guise.

Elgar's most famous examples of the light concert suite are the two Wand of Youth Suites which appeared when he was around fifty but in part drew on music conceived in childhood. They are not the only pieces of Elgar light - or for that matter, any - music to use tunes from his childhood or adolescence; the Nursery Suite is another example. There are of course other Elgar concert suites: the Three Bavarian Dances, selected from a collection of six choral songs (one assumes that the other three were not similarly arranged because three, perhaps four, movements were usual for the light concert suite and rarely did it have as many as six); the Three Characteristic Pieces (Suite in D), Opus 10; Crown of India, of course, which curiously did not include the Crown of India March, already mentioned; The Dream Children, perhaps, for all, their wistfulness; the Severn Suite, originally for brass band; and the Serenade for Strings. One may have doubts, on account of the profundity of its central Larghetto, in describing the latter as a 'light concert suite", but had Elgar given the movements descriptive titles. as he so easily could have done, would we hesitate to do so?

The march, whether written by Mozart, Sousa or whoever, is a light form. Elgar penned many between 1897 (Imperial March) and 1930 when the fifth and last in the Pomp and Circumstance canon appeared, and he undoubtedly inspired many other British composers to compose marches for the concert hall even if some of them, like Eric Coates with his characteristic rhythms. wrote marches which sound very different from the Elgarian mould.

The overture, to a considerable degree, is also a lighter musical form. Of Elgar's examples, In the South is too long to be reckoned a true overture and is in effect a symphonic poem which challenges, and to my mind at least equals, Richard Strauss on his home ground. Froissart is an early effort and was considered to be a serious composition when it first appeared; but Cockaigne is surely one of the earlier examples of the light, bright, often comic, English concert overture of which we may instance Walton's Scapino, Malcolm Arnold's Beckus the Dandipratt, Alan Rawsthorne's Street Corner, Frederic Curzon's Punchinello, Montague Phillips' Revelry and Eric Coates' The Merrymakers from among literally hundreds of examples.

Light music needs little in the way of musical analysis and it will receive none here. As the late Andrew Gold, head of the BBC's Light Music Unit between 1965 and 1969 once said, "Light music is music where the tune is more important than what you do with it." But one or two general observations on Elgar's light music may be proffered. In Elgar's day light music was exceptionally popular, and to remain so until at least the 1950s; and there was a long tradition, stretching back to perhaps the promenade concerts promoted by Louis Jullien in the 1840s and 1850s, of combining light music, even dance music, with classical symphonies and opera in the same programme. Thus Elgar would think nothing of including movements from The Wand of Youth in the same programme as his First Symphony as he did, for example. when he brought the London Symphony Orchestra to play in Doncaster Corn Exchange on 28 October 1909.

Modern conductors and concert promoters are much less anxious to mix "serious" and "light". Some years ago I wrote to the Musical Times, pointing out how few overtures (which we have just suggested are basically a light music form) appeared in the programmes of the BBC Proms in that particular season. Matters are not that different in 1999. Concerts nowadays must be 100% serious (or sometimes 100% light) in their content, it seems. The result of this "ghettoisation" is that we rarely hear Wand of Youth or any other Elgar light music in the Proms or for that matter in any other series of concerts. Surely we are the poorer for this? Incidentally, and taking the argument of the previous paragraph a stage further, it is worth noting that Sir Edward sometimes interpolated what seems to be light music into an ostensibly serious work. The most obvious example of this is in the Interludes for small orchestra in the symphonic study Falstaff which could be and indeed, as I remember from around 1950, on occasion actually were, extracted and performed as a pair of short movements by light, or at any rate smaller orchestras. Another example is the Moonlight episode from In the South published separately. Still another instance is the Dorabella variation from the Enigma Variations, with its dance overtones which at one time was also known to be performed separately. This practice has now apparently largely ceased, due perhaps to the decline of the light orchestra as an institution and maybe also to the decline of the usage, once common, of performing extracts from larger works in live concerts.

It is interesting to see the same thing happening in Anthony Payne's recent realisation of the sketches of the Third Symphony, as the intermezzo-like second movement sounds to me (apart from its length, which is at least twice the length of an average light intermezzo) an archetypal example of Elgar in lighter mode. I do not claim, of course, that Elgar was unique in this. Take the scherzo (The Fair Day) of Harty's Irish Symphony as just one example by another composer. But it is worth making the point that Elgar was surely alive to the possibility of marketing lighter music even when he was preoccupied with something more 'serious'.

It is said, as a generalisation. that Elgar wrote, or at any rate, completed, nothing after producing the Cello Concerto in 1919. But as we have seen, he composed a considerable amount of light music in the years 1919-34: Arthur; Beau Brummell; the orchestrated version of May Song; Pomp & Circumstance No. 5; Severn Suite; Nursery Suite; Mind - all gorgeously tuneful and all beautifully scored. (The Spanish Lady dances are similarly tuneful but Elgar did not have time to score them fully).

The inter-war years were the heyday of British light music, most of it gorgeously tuneful and beautifully scored, not to mention British light music institutions. Who can say that Elgar did not make substantial contributions to it, and them, during that heyday?

What can we say about Elgar's views on, and his relations with, other contemporary British composers of light music? Information is inevitably patchy. We know that he admired Edward German's music and told him so. But German produced many serious compositions, symphonies and the like, and like Sullivan before him, aspired to be a serious composer even though he was fated to be better known for his lighter work. Was it the serious or the light Edward German that Elgar admired? I suspect that it was the German of the operettas and the incidental music as these were then so much more accessible, as they are still.

A surprisingly large number of significant British light music composers made transcriptions or arrangements of Elgar's music which enhanced his (and their) reputations. We may cite a few examples of this. Haydn Wood (1882-1959), who composed many ballads and more light suites than Eric Coates, arranged four Elgar songs (Queen Mary's Song, Like to the Damask Rose, Rondel and Shepherd's Song) for orchestra and so cunningly chosen are the songs that, were it not that one knows the tunes of the songs, the arrangements could almost be one of Wood's own perfectly balanced, satisfyingly contrasted, suites. Wood's own Variations on a Once Popular Humorous Song, incidentally, have some very Elgarian moments. Another Wood, Arthur (1875-1953) of Barwick Green ("The Archers" signature tune) fame, arranged the violin piece Mot d'Amour for orchestra. What became of this transcription? Montague Phillips (1885-1969), remembered as the composer of the operetta The Rebel Maid and many songs and orchestral pieces, arranged in 1935 several Elgar solo songs (coincidentally the same ones as Haydn Wood, plus A Poet's Life) for female choir. The concert organist Edwin Lemare (1865-1934), remembered for his Andantino in D flat (Moonlight and Roses in its vocal version), arranged for organ the violin pieces Idylle and Gavotte, Sursum Corda, Salut d'Amour, Pomp & Circumstance No. 1 and the Caractacus march, all no doubt for his own recitals which took him world-wide. We have already mentioned Henry Geehl (1881-1961) as the arranger for orchestra of Idylle (plus Adieu and Serenade) and for military band of the Severn Suite. It is often said that Geehl helped Elgar with the original brass version of the Severn Suite, but recent research suggests that this assistance may have been of the slightest. Another man particularly associated with brass bands, Denis Wright (1895-1967), arranged many of Elgar's shorter compositions for brass and these remain popular. Percy Fletcher (1879-1932), another known for his light orchestral works, arranged Carillon for military band; though probably the largest number of Elgar compositions arranged for military band came from the various members of the Godfrey family. Finally, Albert Ketèlbey (1875-1959) of In a Monastery Garden fame, prepared in 1916 a suite of six movements from The Starlight Express for solo piano, having also arranged Carillon for piano. Ketèlbey was himself a pianist and many of his original compositions, including the first version of In a Monastery Garden, were for piano solo. We can, I think, assume and in some cases - notably Denis Wright and Haydn Wood - we know that there was mutual regard between Elgar and all these masters of light music (all younger than he was, incidentally), even if Geehl was a prickly individual, as Elgar himself could be. Notice too that with insignificant exceptions the Elgar pieces they arranged came from his corpus of light music, as I have defined the term. Many of them were capable conductors; some of them conducted in London theatres where opportunities for promoting Elgar's music were limited, but others, like the ballad composer Wilfrid Sanderson (1878-1935), who as Conductor of the Doncaster Musical Society performed Gerontius twice and King Olaf once in nine seasons between 1912 and 1924, and conductors associated with the seaside resorts, ever bastions of light music - Dan Godfrey and Julius Harrison contributed notably to the sum of Elgar performances, especially during his lifetime. Light music, and its practitioners, bulked large in Elgar's life and music and we would do well to remember this.

It is interesting to notice that many of his lighter pieces have (in common with the rest of his output) made a comeback in the past generation at a time when British light music generally was in decline. However, this is enjoying something of a revival currently, so it is possible to see Elgar's lighter effusions in their true context.

Philip L Scowcroft


Philip L Scowcroft


As a pendant to the above I would like to other a few observations on the use of Elgar's music as incidental to films and to TV and radio features. During the 1940s and 1950s, indeed later, much of this, particularly on the TV and radio side, was drawn from publishers' recorded "mood music" libraries (Paxton's, Francis Day, & Hunter, Boosey & Hawkes, and most famously Chappell's). These libraries consisted primarily of light "genre" music, but despite his contributions to light music one cannot readily imagine a figure as eminent as Elgar being a "library" composer. In any event he died before television became a commercial proposition and before composers were commissioned to write scores for talking films, while radio broadcasting was less than twelve years old in February 1934.

I feel though, that in view of his success in writing incidental music for the live theatre that he would have relished the challenge of writing for the new media like talking feature (he was actually involved in a brief 'documentary'), radio and TV and it is entirely appropriate that his music has been appropriated for all three.

Most notable among feature films making use of his music was Young Winston (1972) although the film's musical score is credited to Alfred Ralston. Its opening scenes, which showed Churchill on the North West Frontier, resounded, to the strains of the Triumphal March from Caractacus, while later on the Imperial March, Pomp & Circumstance 4 and Nimrod also figured to considerable effect. The Caractacus march was also used as the music to BBC TV's Victorian military "soap", The Regiment, again entirely appropriately, as the events of The Regiment were almost contemporaneous with Caractacus.

More surprisingly the same march was for about four weeks the music introducing Julian Herbage and Anna Instone's well-loved Music Magazine radio feature when this began in 1944 until the long-lasting piano version of Schubert's To Music took over.

John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga was in the mid-1960s adapted for TV and less famously and in no fewer than forty-eight half-hour episodes for radio. The title music for the TV adaptation was of course by Eric Coates (the opening movement, 'Halcyon Days', of his Three Elizabeths Suite), but I recall hearing bits of the Introduction and Allegro as incidental music for the final, twenty-sixth, episode, and I have a feeling that Elgar's music was drawn on to accompany other episodes as well. The radio adaptation used for its title music a snatch of WN the eighth of the Enigma Variations about as different an introduction from the TV version as could be imagined. Elgar's music is surely appropriate for the Saga which spans the years 1886 to 1926, virtually the whole of the composer's creative life.

Chanson de Matin was used in the 1940s as a signature tune for the (radio) adventure serials based on Margot Pardoe's Bunkle books, the Serenade, a short piano piece published late in Elgar's life, accompanied the late night reading (again on radio) of "Anne of Green Gables" during the 1970s.

Not that Elgar's music is appropriate only for adaptations set during his own lifetime. I recall 'The Serious Doll' (from the Nursery Suite) being adapted as incidental music for a TV dramatisation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield during the 1970s and finding its wistfulness rather moving; Mina was actually the title music for that particular adaptation.

The above handful of examples are, I am sure, just a few of the occasions Elgar's music has been drawn on for radio. film and television. The very variety of our few examples show that Sir Edward was indeed a composer for all seasons, but I doubt if we can ever achieve completeness in such a survey. How many times has Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 been used as background? Several TV commercials (and talking of commercials, Nimrod has been used for St. Bruno tobacco and, I believe, a brand of coffee) have used at least a few notes of this most famous of marches. The large screen has also employed it on many occasions, most recently in "Forrest Gump" and the popular British film "Brassed Off', set against the background of a brass band in South Yorkshire, given a fictitious name in the film though it is clearly Grimethorpe Colliery. But if any reader can remind me of any Elgar title music I have not mentioned I should, of course, be grateful.

Philip L Scowcroft

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