As noted in today’s poetry selection, Edward Elgar–once viewed as the United Kingdom’s greatest composer–has suffered mightily for almost a century after his passing, though there has been some more recent reappraisal. Elgar was seen for much of the 20th century as a stuffy reminder of Victorian and Edwardian ideals, the kind of music heard in stuffy oak-paneled halls where the only listeners are old men with thick beards and wool suits as they puff pipes and cigars.
Yes, that’s unfair.
Elgar is also tarred to a certain extent with the same brush as Rudyard Kipling, as being a fossil of the British Empire’s height of excess. Justification for this can be found in today’s selection, a suite culled from the complete score Elgar wrote for a masque (a large theatrical presentation) given on the occasion of King George V and Queen Mary’s crowning as Emperor and Empress of India. This is music of extreme theatricality, and it apparently made quite the impression in its day.
Sadly, the work was almost lost through a series of publication errors and the demolition of a building where the only extant set of orchestral parts was kept. Luckily a piano reduction of the original score survived to be reconstituted into a full orchestral piece, and The Crown of India can be heard again. The entire hour-long work is available on YouTube, but I present here the suite that Elgar culled from various extracts. It’s a brassy, bold, assertive, and dramatic work–not at all unexpected from the man who wrote the Pomp and Circumstance marches.