The last word on Elgar

Given some of the writing on Elgar lately, I thought I would try to improve the calibre of discourse. 

From the man who wrote the book on The Symphony, my dear friend Michael Steinberg, who offers two quotes of his own discovery.

First from David Cairns-

“a hypersensitive, touchy, moody, at times almost suicidally unhappy genius with small nervous hands: and English eccentric who loved fishing, Bradshaw, dogs, recondite information, and bonfires, who practised chemistry and patented the Elgar Sulphuretted Hydrogen Apparatus and who nursed within in a wound that never healed.”

Second from Elgar himself- “An Englishman will take you into a large room, beautifully proportioned, and will point out to you that it is white- all over white- and somebody will say what exquisite taste. You know in your own mind, in your own soul, that it is not taste at all—that is the want of taste—that is mere evasion. English music is white and evades everything.”Finally, from Michael-

“One hesitates before a phrase like “Elgar is the English Mahler.” It is too pat as a “placing” of Elgar; besides, to provide such a pigeonhole is always to invite a reader to stop thinking. Still, an affinity exists between these two great symphonists of the century’s first decade. Gloom pleased (Keats’s wonderful adjective), life loving, incorruptible, tactless, they were pursued by similar demons, they relished their sense of exile even as they suffered under it, they had religious feelings at once intense and ambivalent, they were exceedingly dependent husbands, they were intellectual musicians who revelled in the popular touch. Both detested white rooms, both took what their censorious contemporaries saw as an unholy delight in orchestral virtuosity, and Elgar’s injunction to conductors that he wanted his music played “elastically and mystically” applies equally to Mahler. Mahler looked and behaved like and exasperated genius; Elgar had correct English manners, an unabashed sense of humor, and he took pains to disguise himself as Colonel Blimp. Elgar and his music fooled a lot of people with that disguise.”                     

KW will conduct Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 in A flat on Saturday, April 21st at 7:30 in William Aston Hall, Wrexham with the WSO.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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4 comments on “The last word on Elgar”

  1. Kenneth Woods

    Hi David

    Well said. As you’ll see, I’ve not quite left this as the last word on Elga after all.

    Thanks for visiting.


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