Instead, building on his increasing mastery of purely instrumental music in the overtures Cockaigne (In London Town) (1901) and In the South (Alassio) (1904), and in the Introduction and Allegro for strings (1905), Elgar embarked upon two symphonies (A-flat Major, 1908; E-flat Major, 1911), the first of which was performed nearly a hundred times during its first year. The opening theme, typically marked Nobilmente, and returning several times during the opening movement and finale, acts as a unifying agent, as does the idea of basing the third, slow movement on a melody that is a thematic transformation of the second, the scherzo. Between the two symphonies came the richly expressive Violin Concerto (1910), unusual for its accompanied cadenza and inspired possibly by a temporary romance.
In 1912, Elgar's move from Hereford, near where he had lived since 1904, to Hampstead in London, was marked by the completion of an ode for alto, chorus and orchestra, The Music Makers (O'Shaughnessy, 1912), which forms, with its use of self-quotation, a retrospective of Elgar's achievements to date. More backward glances followed in Falstaff (1913), an extended "symphonic study", where a return to knightly virtues (but not Falstaff's vices) reveals an Elgarian quasi-autobiographical interpretation of Shakespeare's character. The First World War, coming at a crucial moment in Elgar's creative development, stifled its impulse, although in The Spirit of England (Binyon, 1917), his last major work for soloists, chorus and orchestra, the elegiac lament for the fallen is sustained with great compassion. A sudden efflorescence in 1918-19 produced three chamber works, the String Quartet, Violin Sonata and Piano Quintet, all three backward-looking to a certain extent, paying homage in part to Brahms. However, Elgar's late style is fully manifest in the Cello Concerto (1919), by turns poignantly elegiac, capricious and passionate; in it, Elgar laments the passing of his own world. Following the death of his wife in 1920, Elgar completed no further works of substance, although a legacy of recordings of him conducting his own compositions was completed (1914-33). He returned to Worcester to live out his last years.