Elgar's 'Starlight Express' -
'... accomplished and imbued with the sort of affection the work desperately needs.'
Any connection between a 'drunken sailor' and The Starlight Express may seem
far-fetched. It is just the problem of what shall we do with them both. It is more
than understandable that an Elgar, worn down and wearied to the depths of his spirit
by the senseless ravages of World War I, should long for any excuse to escape from
the ever-pressing horrors. That he found it in the strange farrago presented to him
by Lena Ashwell in November 1915 has landed his successors with an impossible
problem: the music, much of it in Elgar's lightest and most attractive vein, is wedded
to a story that can cause only embarrassment.
It was not for nothing that Elgar signed himself off at the end of the full score
as 'ae [aetatis] 15' amid drawings of mice and a stalking cat. Initially he thought
the Wand of Youth suites, which supplied some of the music, would suffice for
the project completely. That, he claimed, originated from an even younger age. But now
at '15' he sought to recapture a neverland of his early days that might temporarily
shut out the cacophony of war. Elgar wrote that the original Wand of Youth
tunes were partly an attempt to make his own parents relive the innocence of childhood.
Copyright © 7 September 2004
Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt