1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Elgar, Sir Edward

ELGAR, SIR EDWARD (1857–  ), English musical composer, son of W. H. Elgar, who was for many years organist in the Roman Catholic church of St George at Worcester, was born there on the 2nd of June 1857. His father’s connexion with music at Worcester, with the Glee Club and with the Three Choirs Festivals, supplied him with varied opportunities for a musical education, and he learnt to play several instruments. In 1879 he became bandmaster at the county lunatic asylum, and held that post till 1884. He was also a member of an orchestra at Birmingham, and in 1883 an intermezzo by him was played there at a concert. In 1882 he became conductor of the Worcester Amateur Instrumental Society; and in 1885 he succeeded his father as organist at St George’s, Worcester. There he wrote a certain amount of church music. In 1889 he moved to London, but finding no encouragement retired to Malvern in 1891; in 1904 he went to live at Hereford, and in 1905 was made professor of music at Birmingham University. To the public generally he was hardly known till his oratorio The Dream of Gerontius was performed at Birmingham in 1900, but this was at once received as a new revelation in English music, both at home and by Richard Strauss in Germany, and the composer was made a Mus. Doc. at Cambridge. His experience in writing church music for a Roman Catholic service cannot be overlooked in regard to this and other works by Elgar, who came to be regarded as the representative of a Catholic or neo-Catholic style of religious music, for which an appreciative public was ready in England at the moment, owing to the recent developments in the more artistic and sensuous side of the religious movement. And the same interest attached to his later oratorios, The Apostles (1903) and The Kingdom (1906). But Elgar’s sudden rise into popularity, confirmed by his being knighted in 1904, drew attention to his other productions. In 1896 his Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf was recognized by musicians as a fine work, and in the same year his Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands and Lux Christi were performed; and apart from other important compositions, his song-cycle Sea-Pictures was sung at Norwich in 1899 by Clara Butt, and his orchestral Variations on an original theme were given at a Richter concert in the same year. In 1901 his popular march “Pomp and Circumstance” was played at a promenade concert, the stirring melody of his song “Land of Hope and Glory” being effectually utilized. It is impossible here to enumerate all Sir Edward Elgar’s works, which have excited a good deal of criticism in musical circles without impairing his general recognition as one of the few front-rank English composers of his day; but his most important later production, his first orchestral symphony, produced in 1908 with immediate success, raised his reputation as a composer to an even higher place, as a work of marked power and beauty, developing the symphonic form with the originality of a real master of his art. In 1908 he resigned his professorship at Birmingham University.