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How much has this to do with Elgar? We cannot know precisely to what extent the composer was influenced by particular things, although there are plenty of clues. He did not, for example, select texts by accident, while even his scores contain written pointers; 'when chivalry lifted up her lance on high' is how he inscribed the manuscript of Froissart. Elgar, too, wrote hundreds of letters, quite apart from other writings such as a commentary on his Symphonic Suite Falstaff which makes clear his view of that work.

At all events, Dr Anderson hopes he 'may have hit upon some points fundamental to Elgar's inspiration', and the book considers a number of his works -- ranging from early pieces such as Froissart, The Banner of St George and The Black Knight to great masterpieces like Falstaff and the Second Symphony -- in relation to such probable influences.

Of course, it is Dr Anderson's thesis that in considering 'influences' we are, in fact, dealing with just one great 'influence', viz. 'Chivalry', or rather the idealised Victorian concept reflected in the myriad artists and writers (including the composer's wife) who are set before us. In this it seems to me he is correct and has come up with a vital key to our understanding of Elgar. Edward's music, in its vigour, nobility, dreamlike quality, nostalgic melancholy, was not plucked -- as is sometimes suggested -- out of the pure air of the Malvern Hills; rather it came from something much wider, the spirit of the age in which he lived, the artistic climate in which he moved.

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Copyright © 19 January 2003 David Bury, Surrey, UK


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