Title graphic: Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934)
Elgar: 1

One of the most important English composers since Purcell, Edward William Elgar made significant contributions to most musical genres, bringing the Victorian cantata and oratorio to fruition and consolidating the British twentieth-century symphonic tradition. Elgar was capable of writing popular music of distinction, and the central tune from his first Pomp and Circumstance March (1901), when linked with Arthur Benson's patriotic words, "Land of hope and glory", became England's second national anthem. Born at Broadheath, near Worcester, the son of a tradesman, Elgar was gentlemanly by nature, and, with the help of his wife Alice, became a gentleman in fact, counting royalty among his friends. Following an honorary doctorate from Cambridge (1900), Elgar received many official honours, including a knighthood (1904), the Order of Merit (1911), and a baronetcy (1931), and was appointed Master of the King's Music in 1924.

Although Elgar received some formal instrumental tuition including violin lessons from Adolf Pollitzer in London (1877-8), he was self-taught as a composer, absorbing what he needed from books and scores in his father's music shop at Worcester. He gained experience in performing and conducting in local music making, but his main livelihood was as a local violin teacher. Moving further afield, he joined W. C. Stockley's orchestra at Birmingham, which performed his Sérénade mauresque on 13 December 1883, and the following year Sevillana was given by August Manns at the Crystal Palace, London, a performance brought about by Pollitzer. Elgar's meeting with (Caroline) Alice Roberts, the daughter of a major-general, and his subsequent marriage to her (1889), brought him increased social status as well as confidence and spiritual support, but a move to London in 1889 to establish himself met with failure. The overture Froissart (1890), headed with an epigraph from Keats, "When chivalry lifted up her lance on high", was successfully performed in Worcester but not heard in London.