ELGAR AND ENGLISHNESS
ALISTAIR HINTON takes issue with
Patric Standford's recent 'Provocative Thoughts'
Well, what a mixed bag of 'thoughts' we have here!
The reasons offered by Mr Standford in his opening and closing paragraphs that so many British performers and organisations are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Elgar's birth seem fatuous in the extreme -- so much so, in fact, that one might wonder either from what time perspective he is writing them or whether he is a long-time subscriber to This England magazine! There is only one real reason for such celebration -- the quality and substance of Elgar's best work and the due recognition that it accords to its composer as a major figure in English music.
Mr Standford redeems himself in his second paragraph, for it is undoubtedly true that Elgar almost single-handedly elevated the status of music composition in England to something that deserved to be taken seriously anywhere; it also strikes me, just as it does Mr Standford, that most of Elgar's music seems not obviously 'English' in character. Mr Standford later opines, however, that 'we have been persuaded to hear the Malvern Hills in it'! Have 'we'? By whom? This is surely at best a half-truth and one that would also appear to countermand his statement about the lack of identifiable 'Englishness' in Elgar's music. Elgar did indeed claim to 'find' music in 'them thar hills' and I am not about to doubt him; he is also credited as having said that, if anyone happens to be walking in the Malvern Hills and hears music, they should not worry, as it will only be him. Elgar's stance here, however, is arguably not so very different to Busoni's on composers as 'diviners' rather than creators, or to Stravinsky's on being a mere vessel through which the music was transmitted. Does taking Elgar at his word presume also that any music that he 'discovered' in the Malverns must necessarily be 'English' in character? I am not so sure.
The quintessentially English Malvern Hills (England or New Zealand) or the Bavarian Highlands? Photo © 2006 Keith Bramich
What is 'exceptional' about the clarity of the Enigma Variations that is not to be found in the symphonies, Gerontius, etc?
Copyright © 5 August 2007
Alistair Hinton, Bath UK