A MAJOR PLEASURE
A new study score of
Elgar's 'Empire March',
reviewed by ROBERT ANDERSON
It is a major pleasure when any Elgar score comes unexpectedly into print. We are already in Acuta Music's debt for the orchestral version of the Severn Suite, the Hereford Civic Fanfare, and the oboe Soliloquy; and now comes the March that should have opened the 1924 Pageant of Empire. For Elgar the occasion was too soon after the end of the Great War and the death of his wife. Little that he had seen of the new decade caused him anything but dismay, and it had finally been decided that Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 would provide a more rousing start to the celebrations. As conductor of the massed forces duly assembled, Elgar told Lady Stuart of Wortley that the only thing he could see providing a ray of comfort amid the prevailing vulgarity was a daisy growing in front of the rostrum. And he shed a tear over it.
This score has been put together from orchestral parts discovered in the early 1990s among the holdings of the Herefordfshire Orchestral Society, a body originally founded by George Sinclair, organist of the Cathedral and owner of Elgar's favourite bulldog, Dan. It seems Elgar himself added annotations to the parts, though his own manuscript full score seems not to have survived. Elgar's additions have rightly been incorporated in the new score, but they are not distinguished as such. In 1956 Boosey & Hawkes published a version of the March, as slightly adjusted by Percy Young. It then appeared as 'Military March No 6', a misleading if not provocative title. The work has no connection with the five marches in the Pomp and Circumstance series.
The new score is admirably clear as far as its scale allows. The orchestration follows Elgar's usual symphonic pattern in wind, brass, and strings. The timpani are supplemented by a percussion section of triangle, side-drum, cymbals, bass-drum, and tubular bells in B flat. Apart from the two harps, there is an unusually full organ part. As always in Elgar's marches, one awaits the splendour of his trio tune; here, too, he is in characteristic form, with a striking melody of bold intervals and stepwise aspiration.
The proof-reading has been exemplary, and it can safely be said that no conductor will be misled by what he sees on the printed page. The sort of detail that occasionally eludes the most careful eye is when the instruction 'a 2' should be applied to pairs of wind instruments on a single stave. A quick survey has revealed a scattering of such omissions in the oboe, bassoon and horn parts; and for good value at cue 16 there is a superfluous one above the third trombone and tuba line. The equivalent pitfall for the strings is the precise placing of 'unisoni' after 'divisi'. Orchestral players will sort such matters automatically in a trice; but the conductor also likes to know in advance what to expect. The viola part after bar 26 will leave him in some doubt. That said, the score is an admirable introduction to a March far too little known hitherto.
Copyright © 23 February 2009 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt
Elgar: The Empire March for orchestra
Acuta Music, 2008
978 1 873690 08 06
(study score - limited edition of 300 copies)
Full score and orchestral parts
(including 4/4/3/4/2 strings)