Elgar (1857-1934)/Payne (1936-) - 'Symphony No. 3'
of “Music as a Means of Self-Expression” became pandemic only during the
Nineteenth Century. Married to the broadly parallel rise of “copyright”,
this bred the current obsession with composers' proprietary rights over
their “personal expressions”. Think about it: Deryck Cooke's celebrated
performing version of Mahler's Tenth is, to some, still controversial,
while more recently two realisations of Ives' Universe Symphony,
by Johnny Reinhard and Larry Austin, are far less contentious. Why? Proprietary
rights! Alma Mahler was vehemently opposed to anyone messing with her late
husband's “personal expressions”, while the pragmatic Ives bequeathed his
accumulated sketches to the world, hoping that “some day, somebody might
make something of them”.
perspective, Elgar's sketches for his projected Third Symphony relate
more to Mahler's case than Ives'. The mortally ill Elgar just once implored
violinist W. H. Reed, his “play-through” assistant, “Don't let anyone tinker
with it”. This single proprietary expression held absolute sway for 50
years. That Elgar had also said, in a less depressed (and more prophetic)
moment, “If I can't complete [it], somebody will . . . or write a better
one, in 50 or 500 years”, was utterly ignored. I suspect that Reed, by
including many of the sketches in his book, Elgar as I Knew Him,
might have deliberately planted a copyright “time-bomb” to rescue the music
from eternal internment in some obscure oubliette. After all, only
the impending cessation of copyright finally persuaded Elgar's family to
sanction Anthony Payne's deeply considered work. One way or another, Reed
secured a just resolution: dabblers were kept out, while someone competent
was let in.
we really cannot enquire, “Is it Elgar?” The answer is obvious: “No”. But
neither is it Payne, and before your, “Well, whose is it, then?”
let me ask, “Does it actually matter?” The fabled “bottom line” is that
it never “matters” who wrote the music, only that it is eloquent. Where’s
the rule that says “the composer” must be one person? Composition can be
(and sometimes is) is a team effort. Of course, Payne’s problem was that
he couldn't liaise with Elgar (though sometimes I wonder). Consequently,
for the final product to retain any integrity, Payne had to subsume his
own personality and immerse himself in the role of “Elgar” (and excel at
jigsaw puzzles, and - apparently - “engineering” and “concoction”). While
saying that he “had to become Elgar”, he insists that “the symphony is
piece”. This is less paradoxical than it sounds.
this symphony isn't Elgar's, it does contain enough Elgar to afford afficionados
a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. During the public premiere's
BBC Radio 3 introduction, Stephen Johnson said, “. . . the beginning of
the finale . . . is a very interesting example of where there is Elgar,
there is half-Elgar, and there is pure Payne” (the pun, I trust, is unintentional!),
and Andrew Davis, in asserting that even experts can't tell what's whose,
attested to Payne's technical achievement. “Bottom line” time again:
we must enquire, “Is it good music?” The answer, again, is “No”!
Why? Because it's more than that - as a miraculous synthesis of the workings
of two brilliant musical imaginations at a half-century's remove, it's
absolutely wonderful music. Billy Reed, we are ever in your debt!
the opening bars (whose sound would sit comfortably in Bartok's Bluebeard's
Castle) and the slow movement's start (the “opening of bronze doors”,
into a room that Shostakovich would eventually occupy) confirm the undimmed
vigour of Elgar's creativity. His sketches surpass even the 'Cello Concerto
in their searing vision of personal mortality: sehnsucht for what
is gone forever is pitched against the chilling horror of indefinite destiny
(the characters of the inner movements). This battle, often fought but
never won, is stunningly realised through Payne's imaginatively devotional
synopsis, the descriptions of the outer movements - complex, multi-thematic
sonata forms - have been necessarily foreshortened :
Allegro molto maestoso: The first subject has two main ideas:
the first strides in bold uncertainty over a vertiginous chasm to the striving,
extrovert second, buzzed by a thematic gnat which flourishes in the development.
The second subject's rhythm recalls the opening theme, but it is otherwise
legato and expansive. The exposition is repeated. Alternating its initial
mysterious air with intensely combative episodes, the development yields
to a telescoped reprise heralded by an energetic tamtam. The coda, a complex
motivic interweaving, is ultimately reminiscent of the first movement of
Scherzo - allegretto: A Brahmsian intermezzo, broadly an ABACAD[A]
rondo. The wistful salon music of [A], reacting to the heightened drama
of [C], is explosively transformed third time round, its formerly subjugate
trumpet counterpoint erupting on belligerent brass. [B] and [D] share a
particularly Brahms-like amplitude, while the coda drifts, dream-like,
in a haze of thematic resonances.
Adagio solenne: Like the Andante of Schubert's Eighth, two themes
are stated and recapitulated with “development” absorbed into the reprise.
If the first movement's start straddled a chasm, this faces the Abyss,
its anguish descending onto a sorrowing solo viola. The first subject's
brass-burnished lament complements the second's emergence from loneliness
into longing. Finally, as the light glimmers, that wracked opening returns
with dismaying inevitability.
Allegro: The first subject blazes in brassy chivalry, thence to punchy
allegro, uplifting nobilmente, and (of all things) a decidedly “sassy”
horn phrase. The second group's similar character is underlined by an unforced
resurgence of the “sassy” theme, prefacing the embattled development. The
recapitulation bypasses the 'chivalric' theme, but achieves an extended
lyrical amalgam of the movement's nobilmente. From the ensuing hush, the
“punchy allegro” theme traces the progress of Elgar's The Waggon Passes.
As this rolls ahead, the ghost of the symphony's opening seeps into the
texture, whereupon all is absorbed into the grey gauze of the unknowable.
sound is contentious: those who contend argue that Elgar would finish on
a “proper” cadence. But, as it happens, Elgar left the ending entirely
to Payne, so the only relevant consideration is, “Does it work?” To my
mind, it does, both musically and, if you insist, in the context of “synthetic
Elgar” – if we cannot know, how else to end than with music's patented
Cosmic Question Mark?
the Twentieth Century came in like a lion, and it was doomed to go out
like a lamb, save for this one astounding work. Elgar's family may be regretting
their protracted reluctance, although this begs the question: would an
easier ride have blunted the fighting edge of the questing spirit that
so vitally informs Payne's inspired - and inspiring - “concoction”? Like
so much else, we'll never know: let's just rejoice in what we have.
Payne gives a full account in Elgar's Third Symphony - The Story of
the Reconstruction (Faber & Faber, 1998).
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