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DAVID BURY explains the merits of
Robert Anderson's new book 'Elgar and Chivalry'


Robert Anderson's remarkable book is dedicated to Anthony Payne. Indeed the author tells us that the inspiration for it was his attendance -- reluctantly he admits -- at the première at London's Royal Festival Hall on 17 February 1998 of Payne's elaboration of Edward Elgar's sketches for a Third Symphony. Dr Anderson, in the event and in common with so many, was bowled over by Payne's great achievement. Elgar's projected Third Symphony was, of course, to have included music first written for Laurence Binyon's play about King Arthur, and the Elgar / Payne re-iteration of this led to Dr Anderson's musing about Elgar and Arthur, Elgar and the Froissart Overture, Elgar and Chivalry. This book is the result.

Elgar and Chivalry. Robert Anderson. © 2002 Elgar Editions
Elgar and Chivalry. Robert Anderson. © 2002 Elgar Editions

It is not a biography of Elgar. There are plenty of those available and some of them, including Dr Anderson's own Elgar in the Master Musicians series, are first class. Doubtless readers for whom the life and music of Elgar are familiar will start at an advantage; others will surely quickly turn to such background reading as a result of Dr Anderson's overview of Elgar's world -- the world of a cultured, well-read late Victorian who also happened to be a genius and whose hard-won fame gradually led to acquaintance with great men.

For in one respect this is not so much a book about Edward Elgar -- Dr Anderson is quick to point out that in some chapters he is scarcely mentioned -- as an anthology of Late Victorian and Edwardian literature, art and architecture. Walter Scott, Longfellow, Tennyson, Newman, General Gordon, Binyon, Bernard Shaw are just some of the figures presented to us; the Arthurian Legend, the St George Legend, Imperial India, Pre-Raphaelite Art some of the themes explored. Dr Anderson's knowledge is encyclopaedic. He appears to have total recall of all Scott's novels, and to be familiar with all the great galleries of Europe. It is awe-inspiring! Yet this knowledge is lightly worn and perfectly at the author's command. When reading Dr Anderson's fluent and often witty prose one is left with no sense of an author struggling clumsily from card to card in some gargantuan index system. One can guess that, as the author hopes, this is a book which Elgar would have enjoyed, and one can sense Dr Anderson's pleasure, too, in sharing his knowledge with his reader.

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Copyright © 19 January 2003 David Bury, Surrey, UK


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