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The nub of the matter is contained in a letter to Elgar from Algernon Blackwood, author of the original tale now made into a play: 'That you have written that music to my words (which the papers now tell me are rotten) is one thing big in my life; but that you have opened your deep, strange simple heart to me as you have, is another thing.' The 'Express' itself is a 'train of thought', and its passengers an assemblage of sprites which Cousin Henry has 'thought alive' out of his English childhood and now brought to a village in the Jura mountains. Elgar uses his enchanting 'Sun Dance' from Youth 1 for the train's arrival [listen -- track 16, 0:00-1:18].

I must explain further. The villagers are suffering from lack of sympathy (not just a wartime complaint), and are consequently 'wumbled'. Henry's young cousins have formed a 'Star Society', linking each of them to a particular constellation. When asleep, their spirits wander the heavens gathering star-dust, which makes them shiny. Among the sprites is the Organ Grinder, from whom I cannot withhold a certain sympathy when I think of my own childhod and the weekly 2d I gave to an old Italian trundling down the street and churning out 'La donna è mobile' plus all the catchiest Verdi. Blackwood's character opens each Act, and starts imaginatively enough [listen -- track 1, 2:41-3:47].

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Copyright © 7 September 2004 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


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