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Elgar’s Tenth Muse
Starring James Fox, Faith Brook, Selma Alispahic and Rupert Frazier; featuring Natalie Clein playing the Adagio from the Cello Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis; soundtrack includes performance by Maxim Vengerov of parts of the Violin Sonata.
Written by Nigel Gearing. Directed by Paul Yule
Picture Format NTSC 4:3; Letterbox, Colour
Region Code 2, 3, 4, 5; Linear PCM stereo
WARNER 5051442857528


Experience Classicsonline

I clearly missed this when it was shown on Britain’s Channel 4 back in 1996. It’s based on documentary fact; Elgar’s brief, well what exactly – infatuation? – with the violinist Jelly d’Aranyi. Interspersed throughout on the soundtrack and sometimes on screen are the mournful sounds of the Cello Concerto and the slow movement in various guises, some of them interminable, of the Violin Sonata.

For once I’m abandoning elegant prose in favour of some random thoughts.

We start with Natalie Clein playing the Cello Concerto; Andrew Davis conducts. Slowly we see Elgar (James Fox with regulation prosthetic Roman nose) watching. Clunky but not bad.  Wistful. Next the composer is seen Gladstonianly chopping down a tree for a music-stand he’s making. Billy Reed appears – much too tall but that’s casting for you – complete with his trademark floppy hair, centre-parted. We’re at Fittleworth I assume. Next Reed tells Elgar of d’Aranyi that ‘word has it she’s the best’ – as if so experienced a musician would say so ridiculous a thing. Next Elgar encounters the Bohemian ménage of Mme d’Aranyi and her brood; Jelly and Adila (Fachiri) and the one looking suggestively mannish. Apart from the latter, things hereabouts get a bit ‘Cheeky Girls.’ Elgar and Jelly experience Sexual Chemistry and she lip kisses him when he asks her to perform the sonata. She’s infatuated with him; he’s Old-Man giddy over her.

Severn House next and a ghastly recital in front of clapped out dowagers and stuffed shirted old farts. Of course she plays the Elgar sonata – but only the slow movement, a leitmotif of the film. D’Aranyi’s Hungarian nationality is constantly stressed – she’d been in England a while but hers was a belligerent country and now ex-Empire. We are shown Elgar characteristically deflecting things away from his music and emotion and embittered. There are hints as to her great love, a soldier killed in the war but whose name is never mentioned probably because it would mean nothing to most people. For the record it was the composer F.S. Kelly. Incidentally we get the infamous Elgar ‘oh my horses’ comment.

After the concert Jelly begins to go off Edu, and the English habit to ‘forego life’ -even starts talking about going back to Hungary. He invites her back to Severn House some time after Mrs Elgar’s death, offering a copy of Plato as a bait, and clumsily tries to kiss her. She runs away into a taxi. And that, pretty much is that. A screen-over at the end fills in the picture – Elgar wrote nothing more and Jelly became ‘Europe’s finest violinist of the inter-war years.’ The desire to draw pathos is regrettably not resisted. Elgar did compose some more and Jelly was very far from being Europe’s finest violinist.

This is all based on incidents first related in Joseph Macleod’s biography The Sisters d’Aranyi. Elgar did call her ‘My Darling Tenth Muse’ – mind you he told Menuhin he’d like to alter the dedication of the Violin concerto in favour of him (but didn’t of course). The concert did take place. Apart from the Elgar she played a Brahms sonata – it was the last concert Alice Elgar attended at Severn House. d’Aranyi did think them all antiquated bores; she did dislike it, quite rightly, when the composer referred to himself in his preferred way as ‘Mr. E. Elgar, Gentleman’. He did conceive a ‘violent affection’ for her, in her own words. He did take her to the Pall Mall restaurant. There was a ‘little scene’.

I quite liked it despite perhaps giving the impression I didn’t. I didn’t mind the liberties but I got fed up listening to the sonata and the concerto. The sonata is played on the soundtrack by Vengerov by the way. The film is a small slice of time which has been extrapolated to bear more weight than it can really carry. And I don’t know if you’d watch it more than once.

The actors do well. Fox is good. Selma Alispahic looks gorgeous and the tricky violin shots, of which there are obviously a number, are pretty convincing.

Elgar’s later relationship with Vera Hockman would actually make for a less colourful but more revealing portrait.

Jonathan Woolf



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