Birthday: June 2, 1857
Died At Age: 76
Sun Sign: Gemini
Born in: Broadheath
Famous as: Composer
Spouse/Ex-: Caroline Alice Elgar
father: William Henry Elgar
mother: Ann Greening
children: Carice Irene
Died on: February 23, 1934
place of death: Worcester
education: Littleton (now Lyttleton)
awards: 1920 - Order of the Crown
1924 - Master of the King's Musick
Sir Edward William Elgar was an internationally reputed English composer best known for his orchestral works. His works have been included in both English and international concert repertoire and his mastery over various musical forms inspired a renaissance in English music. Among his popular works are the ‘Enigma Variations’ and the ‘Pomp and Circumstance Marches’, along with two symphonies and concertos for violin as well as cello. Despite being an English composer, most of his musical influences came from continental Europe instead of England. One of the reasons for this, according to him, was that he always felt as an outsider, both musically and socially. Despite his great talents, he struggled to achieve success in the initial years of his career. However by the time he was in his forties, he had gained much fame and respect. Edward Elgar also gained reputation as the first composer who gave importance to the gramophone. In view of his achievements, he was appointed Master of the King’s Musick in 1924, a very honorable position conferred by the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom.
Childhood & Early Life
Edward Elgar was born to William Henry Elgar, and Ann Greening on 2 June 1857, in the small village of Lower Boradheath, situated outside Worcester, in England.
His father worked as a piano tuner, as well as sold musical instruments. His mother, the daughter of a farm worker, has a deep interest in arts. The couple had seven children, Edward Elgar, being the fourth one.
His father, who soon became a professional violinist, was appointed as an organist of St. George’s Roman Catholic Church, Worcester. He held the post from 1846 to 1885. Thus, his son Edward could receive a musical upbringing. He started taking piano and violin lessons at the young age of eight, and his father gave him the chance to display his skills to important local figures.
His mother also encouraged the boy’s passion for music. Like her, Edward had a keen interest in literature and a love for country life.
Support from both his parents, as well as opportunities from a very early age helped him shape his career from a young age. Till the age of fifteen, he received general education at Littleton House School, near Worcester. He also continued more advanced violin studies with Adolf Pollitzer. However, he was largely self-educated.
Soon, he began working in his father’s shop and started giving piano and violin lessons. He joined Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum as a bandmaster in 1879.
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After struggling for a few years, Edward Elgar eventually managed to build his reputation as a composer and earned fame for works like ‘The Black Knight’ (1892) and ‘King Olaf’ (1896), both of which were inspired by Longfellow. Though he was also catching the attention of prominent critics, their reviews were mostly polite.
In 1899 Edward Elgar produced the ‘Enigma Variations.’ It was premiered in London under the baton of the eminent German conductor Hans Richter. Elgar regarded it as one of his most important works which led to his massive success.
This work received much acclaim for its originality, fascinating quality and incredible artistic skills, and it also helped Elgar establish himself as one of the pre-eminent British composers of his generation. He also became the first English composer of international reputation since Henry Purcell.
Elgar is also well-known for the five ‘Pomp and Circumstance Marches’, which were composed between 1901 and 1930. This work is very popular among millions of viewers of television worldwide.
He made lots of other compositions during World War I as well, which included incidental music for a children’s play ‘The Starlight Express’ and a ballet, ‘The Sanguine Fan.’
Another major work he completed during the war years was ‘The Fringes of the Fleet’, which was set to verses by Rudyard Kipling. It was performed with great success all over the country. However, Kipling objected to its performance in theatres, due to which it could not be continued to be performed.
His career began to falter in the 1920s. Still his admirers continued to make presentations of his works whenever it was possible.
However, his works experienced a revival during his final years. In 1932, his seventy-fifth birthday celebration was organized by the BBC, along with a festival of his works.
He was also asked to begin working on an opera ‘The Spanish Lady’, and accepted a commission from the BBC to compose a Third Symphony as well. However he failed to complete it due to illness. Diagnosed with colorectal cancer in October 1933, he died a few months later.
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Composed in 1890, ‘Froissart Overture’ is a concert overture, one of Edward Elgar’s early works. It was composed for the Worcester Festival, a secular concert during that year’s Three Choirs Festival. It was Elgar’s first large scale work for full orchestra.
He composed a series of marches for orchestra named ‘The Pomp and Circumstance Marches.’ It was first performed by the Liverpool Orchestral Society, conducted by Alfred Rodewald. It was also played two days later at London Promenade Concert.
’Falstaff’ was another orchestral work composed by Elgar. Though it was premiered in 1913, it didn’t receive the enthusiasm which some of his early works did.
He wrote ‘The Severn Suite’ in 1930. This work was the result of an invitation to write for a test piece for the National Brass Band Championship. This work was dedicated to author George Bernard Shaw, who was a friend of Elgar.
Awards & Achievements
Apart from being awarded with the title of the Master of the King’s Musick in 1924, Edward Elgar also received the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1925.
The Royal Victorian Order appointed him as a Knight Commander in 1928.
He also received honorary degrees from several universities like the University of Cambridge and the University of Yale.
Today, around 60-65 roads exist in the UK, which have named after Edward Elgar.
Personal Life & Legacy
Edward Elgar got married on 8 May 1889 to Caroline Alice Roberts, daughter of Major General Sir Henry Roberts. She was eight years older to him. Alice, whose family was against this marriage, was disinherited for this.
His wife later became his business manger as well as social secretary. Not only was she was a music critic, but she also knew how to deal with her husband’s mood swings, which led to them having a good and peaceful life together. Elgar dedicated one of his works, ‘Salut d’ Amour,’ to her. The couple had a daughter in 1890, who was named Carice Irene.
After losing his wife in 1920, he became depressed and started losing interest in composing. He sold his house and moved to the village of Kempsey. He did compose some works during this time, which led to his appointment as the Master of the King’s Musick.
In 1933 he was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away on 23 February 1934 at the age of 76. He was buried at St. Wulstan’s Church in Little Malvern.