Edward Elgar (1857-1934) – Chanson de Matin, op. 15 no. 2
On the whole, composing has not proved to be a particularly lucrative career. For instance, prior to the Enigma Variations, certainly, Elgar’s successes were predominantly artistic, doing little to improve his parlous financial state. One way that he kept his head – or at least his nose – above water was by producing sweetmeats for the Victorian domestic music market. In 1897, Elgar sent Novello’s one such piece – Evensong, for violin and piano. “Or maybe you’d prefer ‘Vespers’?” he wondered. Novello’s, aware that French titles were more commercial, called it Chanson de Nuit.
In 1899, shortly before Enigma’s première, he sent them another, similar piece, which (he said) he’d just unearthed and dusted off. Now mindful of his publisher’s superior wisdom in such matters, he suggested the title Chanson de Matin. By 1901, endeavouring to maximise his market penetration, he’d produced several arrangements, including the now-familiar orchestral ones.
Experts say that, in spite of Chanson de Nuit being much the more craftily composed, Chanson de Matin’s juicy tune has won it greater popularity. Now, there’s a surprise. Not, you understand, that Chanson de Matin shows the least trace of shoddy workmanship – quite the opposite, in fact.
Consider: verse-and-refrain form, imaginatively topped and tailed. The melodies are contrasted – the first demure, maidenly, written in one part, the second darker, more worldly-wise and comprising two intertwining lines. They are complementary, yielding one to the other with artless ease, and of continually changing aspects. I don’t know about you, but that’s crafty enough for me, and as charming an Elgar bon-bon as anyone could wish.
© Paul Serotsky, 2008
© Paul Serotsky
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