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
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.