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EDWARD ELGAR (1857-1934)
An Anthology of Works from Boosey & Hawkes

(The Masterworks Library)
Sea Pictures (1899)
Pomp & Circumstance Marches 1 - 5 (1901-1930)
Cockaigne (In London Town) (1901)

265 pages of score
ISMN M060110238 £19.99 229 mm x 305 mm

Elgar was forty-two when he achieved recognition with his first masterpiece 'Enigma Variations' in 1899. The works in this anthology come mainly from the first decade of the period when Elgar was at the height of his powers, 1899 - 1920, the exceptions being Pomp & Circumstance no. 5 which, though published in 1930 was sketched much earlier, closer in time to the others, and the setting of Alice Elgar's 'In Haven', which was composed two years earlier than the rest of Sea Pictures, under the title, 'Love Alone'.

There are brief but informative notes on each work in a preface by Malcolm MacDonald, and separate texts of the poems; both preface and texts are given in French and German translations. The score is in large format, 229 mm x 305 mm, and Boosey & Hawkes intend the publications in the 'Masterworks Library' series for students, conductors, performers, libraries, CD collectors and general music enthusiasts. Certainly both amateur and professional conductors will find it useful to have these popular works on their shelves, since reference can be made by way of annotations to the approach taken on previous occasions. The scores are well bound and will lie flat without danger of the spine breaking, essential when conducting or score reading at the piano. 

Sea Pictures, a cycle of five songs for contralto and orchestra, is given in a new edition; 'music setting by Jack Thompson' on what looks like Sibelius software. It is a very clear score and easy on the eye, though clarity is achieved partially by using smaller staves than the other works in this collection. Relatively new engraving conventions are to be welcomed, such as bar lines extending across instrumental groups, so the eye can separate woodwind, brass and strings; the older method was to extend the bar lines across all staves with a break only before the strings (unless there was harp or percussion which would also be separated out). The vocal line uses beamed note groupings instead of separating them according to syllables, although there are a few slur marks used as phrasings rather than for melisma. Instrumental abbreviations are marked on each page, and the horns have key signatures. However, I wonder if Elgar really did omit pedal indications in the harp part; the diminished chord glissando in bar ten of No.1, if really intended as a glissando, would necessitate the harpist to tune three of the strings to enharmonics to achieve the desired effect. It would also be better if the vocal stave was marked, 'Alto solo' instead of 'Voice'.

Despite oft-repeated criticisms of 'Sea Pictures' citing that the poetry is less than great, and the sea forms only a tenuous link between movements, it has remained one of the most popular song cycles ever written. The fact is, 'great' poetry is not always good material for song, and a group of songs need not necessarily develop a narrative in order to make a satisfying collection - the posthumous cycles of Strauss (Four Last Songs) and Schubert (Schwanengesang) are proof of that. Some unity is gained by cyclic use of themes; there is a reference to the opening of No. 1 in No. 3, and the final song quotes from the previous two.

The movements are:

1. Sea Slumber-Song [words by Hon. Roden Noel]

2. In Haven (Capri) [words by Caroline Alice Elgar]

3. Sabbath Morning at Sea [words from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning]

4. Where Corals Lie [words by Richard Garnett]

5.The Swimmer [words from a poem by Adam Lindsay Gordon

Perhaps the most popular of the sea pictures is 'Where Corals Lie', often performed as a stand-alone song, but the whole cycle would make a good programme filler for choral societies preparing one of the shorter choral works; the orchestra is the same as for 'The Light of Life', though I recently heard it performed with 'The Music Makers', which requires triple woodwind.

The five Pomp and Circumstance marches all differ to varying degrees in instrumentation, which suggests that they were not intended to be performed as a suite, though the Elgar Society Website states that they should be. Two harps are required for No. 1, and the first three use two trumpets and two cornets, a practice that is more commonly found in scores by French composers. Two harps are again required for No. 4, this time written on the same part with indications for unisons and octave doublings, and a cor anglais is added to the last three. However, there is sufficient contrast between each march to make them work extremely well as a suite.

The title 'Pomp and Circumstance' is taken from Shakespeare's Othello, Act III scene iii, in which Othello, having learned of Desdemona's inconstancy, finds this an undignified, inglorious torment compared with heroic deeds:

'Farewell the tranquil mind; farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troop and the big wars
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!'

Hence the subtitle 'Military Marches'; but there is also an air of celebration and pageantry which is very apparent in the two best known, No. 1 (1901) and No. 4 (1907). Though the forgoing sentiments are somewhat alien to us today, Elgar was a man of his times and No. 1 would have certainly caught the zeitgeist of the beginning of the twentieth century, with a new king coming to the throne in 1901, and the Boer War coming to an end the following year. It was the new king, Edward VII, who suggested to Elgar that words should be provided for the trio melody, advice which Elgar heeded for the 1902 Coronation Ode with words by A.C. Benson. However, this is not the version of 'Land of Hope and Glory' which, as stated in the preface, is often sung to the march, for this version only contains the first four of the well-known lines. The unfortunately jingoistic lyric was penned to provide a song for voice and piano, and was never intended to be sung in performances of the march; it omits the reply to the question, 'How may we extol thee', which is answered in the Coronation Ode, 'Hearts in hope uplifted' and 'Strong in faith and freedom', nobler sentiments indeed. To my mind, the air of pious solemnity that is more appropriate for performances of the Ode is out of place in the march; and the practice of singing in the trio section has caused it to be performed far too slow without the voices. The score, which has the least clear print in the anthology, gives bracketed directions for the conductor's guidance that are not printed in the parts, and I suspect that these are editorial additions. A better musical effect would be achieved by following the pattern of march No. 4; the tempo remains more or less even until the final grandioso re-statement of the trio melody. A notable 'tingle factor' is the ringing violin open G-string in the last four bars of the first statement of the trio melody in No. 1, and throughout the first statement of the trio melody in No. 4. When rehearsing these trio sections conductors will need to anticipate enquiries from the first violins as to where to stop playing 'sul G', since it is not cancelled in the score for either of these two marches, though it is apparent that a return to 'ordinario' is intended for the second statement of the themes an octave higher.

March no. 2 (1901) is more restrained in character and the initial key rather ambiguous. It opens in A minor, then proceeds with a Phrygian flavour and a first violin passage that does not fall into even bowings. Familiarity with the repeat signs is essential, since D.C. al segno (the actual sign is printed) is used combined with an end repeat instead of a straight 'D.S.'; the sign to which to return appears in the third bar. The trio section has a perky woodwind tune, more Austro-Germanic in character than the Englishness of the other march trios. March no. 3 (1905) almost takes on the proportions of symphonic argument with its dramatic, but hushed con fuoco opening leading to a pounding theme at letter D somewhat similar in feel, and in the same key of C minor, to the finale of the third symphony. The opening of the trio section is rather fragmentary but develops into a wonderful passage of cantabile Elgarian sequences. March no. 5 (1930) opens with the most jovial music of them all, but the trio is like a wistful reminiscence of past glories until its nobilmente recapitulation.

Elgar named his musical portrait of London 'Cockaigne', an epithet that had been applied to the capital as two jokes in one - the similarity to 'Cockney', and the irony of naming it after the mythical land of luxury and idleness famed in mediaeval story. The work, for which Elgar wrote a detailed programme, dates from 1901 and is a stirring evocation of Edwardian London complete with lovers in a park being interrupted by a brass band! The orchestration requires woodwind in twos apart from a contra-bassoon, two cornets in addition to the two trumpets, an ad. lib. organ part and curiously of all, two optional extra tenor trombones to 'bump up' at sections marked in the score between 'pointing finger' icons. This work makes a marvellous concert-opener, the duration being approximately fifteen minutes, not forty as given in the score on page 196; perhaps the error results from the fact that it is opus 40.

Jim Cooke

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