As we noted in the first volume of this survey of Elgar’s songs, like most composers his first attempts at composition were with anthems and small chamber and piano pieces, though unlike many young composers of his day, strangely Elgar wrote few songs until his various love affairs from his mid-twenties on•wards. Elgar’s early life as a composer was one of constantly hawking salon music and popular short pieces round publishers – a situation that gradually changed in the 1890s as his early works for chorus and orchestra were heard. But it took Elgar a long time to become established, the Enigma Variations only appearing when he was 41. The earliest song presented here, indeed Elgar’s earliest surviving completed work, a setting of the American James Gates Percival’s The Language of Flowers dates from May 1872 when he was not quite 15. He dedicated it to his sister Lucy on her twentieth birthday. It remained unpublished and unknown until recently when it was printed in the Elgar Collected Edition. In the 1880s, in his late-twenties, Elgar tried to establish himself as a composer with various short pieces, salon music and songs which as we have seen he took round the many London publishers of the day. A Soldier’s Song, styled as ‘Op 5’ dates from 1884 and although it was sung at the Worcester Glee Club in March that year it had to wait for publication until 1890 when it appeared in The Magazine of Music – and 1903, when renamed A War Song, Boosey took it on, doubtless with the public’s preoccupation with the Boer War in mind. Another American, Colonel John Hay provided the words for Through the Long Days, which dated ‘Gigglewycke (his friend Charles William Buck’s Yorkshire home) on 10 Aug 1885 was sung in London at a St James’s Hall ballad concert in February 1887 and, being short and tuneful was published almost immediately by Stanley Lucas, Weber & Co. Elgar generally set lesser-known or minor verse doubtless feeling that great poetry should stand on its own and not constrain him in his response. In this case the words were of immediate emotional resonance for Elgar, since, written in August 1885, they herald his lost fiancé Helen Weaver’s planned departure for New Zealand two months later. Is She Not Passing Fair? to words by Charles, Duc d’Orléans translated by Louisa Stuart Costello is dated 28 Oct 1886 and although not published until 1908 is perhaps the bestknown of our group thus far. Elgar had just met his future wife Alice Roberts and we must wonder if he was celebrating it in music. The ballad As I Laye a-thynkynge is another early publishing success, dated 12 June 1887 and issued by John Beare & Son the following year. As a Victorian, Elgar shared the period’s love of the pseudo medieval which saw so much of academe and religion decked out in the trappings of a reinvented past. Here he sets ‘Thomas Ingoldsby’ (real name R.H.Barham) complete with olde-worlde spellings…..Download booklet
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