Sir Edward Elgar in the First World War

Did you know about Sir Edward Elgar’s connection with the Polish and Belgium Relief Funds? The famous English composer Sir Edward Elgar is associated with Worcester, and the Three Choirs Festival held at Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester Cathedrals, but during the Great War he had other connections too.

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Front cover of the score of ‘Polonia’ with Sir Ivor Atkins’ note from the publishers. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

In the First World War civilians could be caught up in the wars between the great nations, as the conflict raged across the globe. Men of Polish origin may have been drafted into various armies during the war, but the Polish Relief fund was set up by the famous composer I. J. Paderewski to help civilians, who were suffering as the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies battled against one another across central Europe.  As part of that relief effort, Sir Edward Elgar composed a piece of music which was first performed in 1915. It was a Symphonic Prelude appropriately called ‘Polonia’. Elgar dedicated it to his friend Paderewski. The Cathedral’s copy of this music was presented by the publishers. Elgar also wrote a short piece of music as part of the support given towards the Belgium Relief fund. Elgar was an Associate of the Royal Academy of Belgium.

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Score signed by Edward Elgar in 1916. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

On the evening of 15th March 1917, Elgar also conducted For the Fallen in Worcester Cathedral. This music was based on the Laurence Binyon poem of that title, and was sung by the Cathedral’s choir and the Festival Choral Society, and soprano Carrie Tubb. The concert was organised by the Worcester Festival Choral Society, and the chance to hear Elgar conduct in his home city drew great numbers to the cathedral. It was in aid of the Worcester Red Cross War Depot Fund, and raised £62 7s 1d at the time. The war meant that it was not possible to assemble an orchestra, so the cathedral organist and King’s School Officer Training Corps drummers provided accompaniment. The Cathedral library holds not only an autographed copy of the music that Elgar composed in November 1916, and a flyer from the concert, but also the baton Elgar used.

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Baton used by Elgar in March 1917. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

Sir Edward Elgar’s composition Nimrod from his Variations is nowadays one of the pieces played at the commemorations for those who have sacrificed their lives for their country during modern wars held at the Cenotaph in London every 11th November. The Cathedral library has two printed copies of this. Sadly neither of them was autographed by Elgar.

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The Elgar Window in Worcester Cathedral. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

Elgar died in February 1934. He is buried at the Roman Catholic church of St. Wulstan’s in Little Malvern, and there is also a window dedicated to him in Worcester Cathedral. To learn more about Elgar why not visit the Elgar Birthplace Museum in Worcestershire.

 

David Morrison

 

 

 

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