he Cello Concerto was Elgar’s last important
work, completed in the summer of 1919. Into this
masterpiece he poured his most personal utterances,
underscored by a sense of resignation brought on by
the traumas of war. Although he would live another 15
years, this work is from the autumn of his life: his health
was already in decline.
The cello’s poignant tone seems to emphasize Elgar’s
mood of resignation, which is heightened further by
his restraint in use of the orchestra. Yet despite the
seeming melancholy of the music, the Cello Concerto
has rightfully gained a place not only as one of Elgar’s
best-known compositions, but as one of the most
exalted works for the solo instrument, a concerto
deeply loved by cellists and audiences alike. No finer
work could serve to re-introduce local audiences to the
splendor of their magnificent orchestra following a long
winter of discontent.
The first performance took place in Queen’s Hall, London,
on October 26, 1919, with the composer conducting the
London Symphony and Felix Salmond as soloist.
a balance of opposites
The Cello Concerto is a work of great beauty and great
contradiction. Elgar scores the concerto for a large
orchestra, but gives a chamber-like delicacy to much of
the music. Moods can change abruptly, from a touching
intimacy one moment to extroverted style the next.
We almost sense two completely different composers
behind the concerto. One is the public Elgar—strong,
confident, declarative—while the other is the private
Elgar, torn by age and doubt. This strange division lies
at the heart of this quietly powerful work.
Program Notes
feb 14, 15
Edward Elgar
Born:
June 2, 1857, Broadheath
Died:
February 23, 1934, Worcester
Concerto in E minor for Cello and Orchestra,
Opus 85
adagio.
We seem to hear the old confident Elgar in the
cello’s sturdy opening recitative, marked
nobilmente
,
yet at the main body of the movement things change
completely. Without any accompaniment, violas lay
out the movement’s haunting main theme, which rocks
along wistfully on its 9/8 meter. This somber idea sets the
mood for the entire opening movement. Even the second
subject, announced by pairs of woodwinds, is derived
from this theme. Throughout, Elgar reminds the soloist
to play
dolcissimo
and
espressivo
.
lento – allegro molto.
The first movement is joined to the
second by a brief pizzicato reminiscence of the opening
recitative, and the solo cello tentatively outlines what
will become the main theme of the second movement, a
scherzo. Once this movement takes wing, it really flies—it
is a sort of perpetual-motion movement, and Elgar marks
the cello’s part
leggierissimo
: “as light as possible.” Tuneful
interludes intrude momentarily on the busy progress,
but the cello’s breathless rush always returns, and the
movement races to a sudden—and pleasing—close.
adagio.
The music returns to the mood of the opening
movement. Metric units are short here (the marking is
3/8), but Elgar writes long, lyric lines for the soloist, who
plays virtually without pause. There is a dreamy, almost
disembodied quality to this music, and Donald Francis
Tovey caught its mood perfectly when he described the
Adagio
as “a fairy tale.”
allegro.
The finale, cast in rondo form, has an extended
introduction, combining orchestral flourishes, bits of the
opening recitative and a cadenza for the soloist, before
plunging into the main part of the movement, marked
Allegro, ma non troppo
. This is launched with some of the
old Elgarian swagger, and the music at first seems full of
enough confidence to knit up the troubled edges of what
has gone before.
But this is only a first impression. Gone is the confident
energy, and we sense that in place of the music Elgar
wanted
to write he is giving us the music he
had
to
write: it seems to speak directly from the heart. Finally
a vigorous recurrence of the bold, swaggering theme
sweeps away the memory of things past, and the work
concludes on a grand flourish.
Instrumentation:
solo cello with orchestra comprising 2 flutes
(one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns,
2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings
t
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