Elgar 150 - Museums Get Ready To Celebrate Composer's Anniversary

By Ruth Harper | 29 May 2007
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  • Archived article
black and white photo shows a man with a large grey moustache, wearing a suit and tie in an Edwardian style.

Sir Edward Elgar, courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum

Sir Edward Elgar, the prolific and much-loved composer of Pomp and Circumstance, Land of Hope and Glory and the Enigma Variations, was born on June 2, 150 years ago in a small Worcestershire village.

There are events all over the country to celebrate the life of this quintessentially English composer but mostly the activity centres on the Worcestershire area where he was born and spent much of his life.

colour photo shows a small brick built house with a central porch on the ground floor, with flowers in the foreground of the picture

The Elgar Birthplace Museum, a few miles from Worcester, centre of a busy programme of celebrations all through the great composer's anniversary year. Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum

It was Elgar’s greatest wish that the nation buy the Broadheath house where he was born and use it to celebrate his life and work. The Elgar Birthplace Museum is owned and run by the Elgar Foundation and houses the largest permanent collection in the world of manuscripts, letters, diaries, personal possessions and memorabilia associated with his life, work and influences.

To celebrate his 150th birthday, the museum has unveiled a collection of recently acquired letters between Elgar and his good friend and confidante Dr Buck spanning 50 years of their correspondence. This remarkable collection will be on display until November 5 2007.

The collection, bought last year by the Foundation from Dr Buck’s family, gives a unique insight into Elgar’s close friendship with the Doctor and the realities of his daily life – from the welfare of his dog Scrap to his financial situation (or lack of it), scraps of manuscript, his relationship with the music he was composing and his irritations and ailments.

black and white photo shows a man wearing a bowler hat, a tweed suit and breeches, leaning against a bicycle which has a very high saddle and handlebars

Sir Edward Elgar, with his Royal Sunbeam bicycle, which he frequently rode across the Malvern Hills. Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum

One extract from January 1884 reads: “I was sorely disappointed at not going to town – but it’s no use going there to sit in the house all day – I have no money – not a cent – and I am sorry to say have no prospects of any… It seems to me that the only person who is an utter failure in this miserable world is myself”.

Fortunately by July 1886 we find him in better spirits: “Went to a large pic-nic last week; high jinks, a sequestered spot by the river 9 miles out. I helped to boil the kettle, etc, etc, flirting (out of practice), dancing (stiff in the joints) etc, etc”.

In 1891, Elgar moved to Malvern as an unknown. When he left Malvern for ‘Plas Gwyn’ in Hereford in 1904 he was an honourary Doctor of Music at Cambridge, and knew that he was soon to be knighted.

black and white photo shows two people outside a house built from stone

Elgar and his wife outside Forli, the house in Alexandra Road, Malvern, where some of his most famous works were written. Courtesy the Elgar Birthplace Museum

In the 13 years he spent living in the town, at first at ‘Forli’ and then at ‘Craeg Lea‘, he composed some of the most iconic pieces in British musical history, including the first of his ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ marches and the ‘Enigma Variations’.

The 150th anniversary display at Malvern Museum focuses on Elgar’s domestic and public life; his passion for cycling, walking and golf (which he took up in 1893) and his contribution to Malvern’s community. To celebrate his birthday – and his sporty side - the museum is staging a special exhibition of period sporting equipment including a golf club and a kite from the era.

Yet perhaps the best way to celebrate the man and his music is to revisit the countryside around the Malvern Hills – an area that clearly inspired this quintessentially English composer. He loved ‘Birchwood’ – the cottage that he and Alice rented – and would retreat there to find inspiration for his work. Imagine listening to the Enigma Variations whilst staring out across the vista of the hills.

On the eastern aspect of the hills is the wide, smooth, open valley of the river Severn. To the west the viewer looks out over Herefordshire towards the Black Mountains and Hay Bluff, often clouded in mist.

colour photo shows a view down a pathway high up on a hill

The Malvern Hills, looking south towards the Herefordshire Beacon. © Jon Pratty

Both Elgar and his wife Alice are buried in the churchyard of St Wulstan's Catholic Church in Little Malvern and there is a memorial window to Elgar in Worcester Cathedral where there will be a gala concert on June 2 at 14:30.

An Elgar Trail has been constructed by Malvern Hills District Council and Worcester City Council which links most of the surviving properties and other locations associated with Elgar in the Worcester, Malvern and Hereford area - a leaflet describing the Trail can be obtained from Tourist Information Offices in the area. There is a basic overview map on the BBC site

photo shows a website page with the word elgar written on it

The Philharmonia Orchestra's superb online tribute to Edward Elgar.

Additionally, there are some fantastic Elgar resources available online: The Philharmonia Orchestra has created a superb microsite to celebrate Elgar’s 150th year, complete with a detailed timeline and film footage of the man himself.

There's also a chance to download an Elgar ringtone for your phone! Scholars of Elgar will find a detailed bibliography and archive film of the great composer in 1929.

The Elgar Society website has lots of information about the 150th anniversary celebrations, as well as a programme of concerts through 2007.

Keen researchers will find Cecilia has links to hundreds of archival resources nationwide including the Elgar Diaries, housed at the University of Birmingham, Barber Music Library, autograph manuscripts in the Royal College of Music’s collection and autograph letters in the Brodsky collection.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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