Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

In the Bavarian Highlands
by Peter Greaves
Elgar Monographs No. 1; 96 pp Elgar Enterprises. - £5.99

This is the first of a series of monographs published in association with the Elgar Society. During the 1890s, Edward Elgar and his wife Alice had holidays in Southern Bavaria in five separate years. These inspired the set of six choral songs under the name "From the Bavarian Highlands". Three of these were orchestrated and published as "Bavarian Dances".

Peter Greaves had undertaken intensive research on these holidays and provided maps and detailed itineraries for each holiday together with numerous photographs of existing buildings and contemporary portraits. Letters by the Elgars and by their guests are quoted at length. These provide a detailed picture of a type of holiday which is barely possible today. These holidays clearly represented the highlights of the time when Elgar was leading a happy life with his wife and many friends. It was fascinating to read that they travelled mainly first class, although they could ill afford it.

The description of the music and how it was received is interesting and there is a useful bibliography and discography. It is a must-read for the Elgar enthusiast. It is published by Elgar Enterprises.

Arthur Baker

This Review first appeared in the Bulletin of the Federation of Recorded Music Societies ©

Elgar - "The Best of Me"
The Best Of Me; A Gerontius Centenary Companion;
Edited By Geoffrey Hodgkins.

Elgar Enterprises - £18.

Some members of Recorded Music Societies spend quite a lot of their time trying to select what they consider the best recording of their favourite works and, if one of these is Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, they will find information listing all the commercial recordings and comments on the quality of the recordings themselves together with opinions on the performers' interpretations.

One chapter contains a print-out of the complete poem on which it is based indicating the sections which Elgar selected. This shows quite clearly the manner in which Elgar "translated" the work to reflect his own religious views while still not offending those of any others.

This 340 page volume is an "expansion" of a collection of articles that have appeared previously in the journals of the Elgar Society and in the public press which seek to record the history of the evolution of The Dream from the time that Elgar was first presented with a copy of the poem to some of the occasions when the cantata was actually performed and recorded.

Although it is somewhat repetitious in its references to the first public performance, and it has to be said that it was not alone in "failing" at the first fence the contributions from such persons as J A Fuller Maitland and Mrs Richard Powell (Dorabella in the Enigma Variations) are interesting to have on public record. Indeed, the chapter entitled "Birchwood in Summer, 1900" being an extract from her book, Edward Elgar: memories of a variation, by Dorabella captures the whole essence of Elgar, his personality, his serious yet happy approach to life and his music as nowhere else in the book. When reading this chapter for the first time, however, I did not allow myself to be diverted from her delightful narration by reading the innumerable cross referencing notes at the bottom of almost every page.

The nearest to a careful and detailed analysis of the work is contributed by Andreas Friesenhagen who examines the layout of individual movements and comments on the progressive key signature plan.

While various contributors remark on the presence of leitmotifs, no actual musical illustrations are offered and these must have been as important in Elgar's mind as they were in Wagner's.

A full chapter has been contributed by John Norris giving a biography of John Henry Newman, the composer of the poem in 1865. It would appear that the concept of the poem, the central idea of a soul's journey through the afterlife, was recurrent in his sermons delivered when in Oxford.

I sometimes feel, however, that perhaps through over-enthusiasm or an excess of desire to find what is there, some musicologists find ideas and thoughts that never occurred to the composer or writer.

The book contains an excellent series of photographs of the countryside between Bransford and Powick; of Elgar playing golf; of Sherridge and Birchwood Lodge where Elgar undertook the bulk of his work on the Dream. The considerable contributions made and encouragement given by Jaeger are quite correctly attributed, but the sources of artistic inspiration are extremely complex and it could be dangerous on occasions even to conjecture what they may have been. The entire production reflects the scholarly and affectionate approach adopted by the chief editor and his assistants.

John Kemsey-Bourne

This Review first appeared in the Bulletin of the Federation of Recorded Music Societies ©

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