'After many a dusty mile'
A friend has lent me a modest paperback devoted to Elgar the cyclist,
published in Elgar country two years ago. The author, Kevin Allen, has conjured
a memorable picture of round-the-turn-of-the century Worcestershire and
Herefordshire, enough to hold the attention of anybody with interest in
Elgar the man as much as the composer. That Elgar displayed qualities not
usual for one of his upbringing raises matters that have been documented
and discussed well enough in the past, and I joyfully pass on to this delightful
For a country-loving man in his forties the purchase of a bicycle at
this encouraging stage in its development was unremarkable. Even so, Elgar
needed prodding into this venture by Rosa Burley, who was one of the determined
ladies, especially around the Midlands, to adopt this mode of transport
as rather a splendid adventure, not least in determining purchase of suitable
Elgar's first bike was probably hired, and was a vital and liberating
contrast to hours at his desk writing and scoring The Dream of Gerontius.
Elgar soon learned to 'wobble around', and his habit of musical creation
in the open air obviously became linked with cycling through the countryside,
not forgetting that pedalling a bike is a steady rhythmic process. The cycling
years that followed gave birth to some of Elgar's significant works - Introduction
and Allegro, The Apostles, The Kingdom, first Symphony, and others.
It was not long before Elgar's enthusiasm for 'wobbling around' led to
increasingly longer rides, usually with friends, and with occasional mishaps.
An exhausting chase to keep up with G.T.Sinclair - organist at Hereford
- on a hilly ride was ruefully described by Elgar in a letter to William
Reed. But this was an exception to his more leisurely approach.
By 1909, Elgar's cycling days were drawing to a close as demands upon
his time and travel to foreign parts made his country rides virtually impossible.
Probably his last cycle ride in June 1910 coincided with the Violin Concerto's
conclusion, and the Elgars' decision to move to London.
Kevin Allen's fascinating and carefully documented account of that part
of Elgar's country life when bicycling and composition were extraordinarly
linked as the inner manifestation of such an enjoyable pastime, also includes
rare contemporary photographs of people and places. An 1891 map of Herefordshire
tucked into a back pocket displays the areas so dear to Elgar's heart and
often visited by him with his friends.
Basil Ramsey, 24 February 1999
|ELGAR THE CYCLIST|
A Creative Odyssey
By Kevin Allen
Available from the author at
23 Benbow Close, Malvern Wells, Worcestershire
WR14 4JJ, England. Price (with postage) £5.50