Edward Elgar (1857-1934)  String Quartet in E minor Op 96   1. Allegro moderato  2. Piacevole  3. Allegro molto 1919, and Elgar’s life like so many in that year had been turned upside down.  The new Europe and Britain had been born but where did this leave this elderly Victorian who had tasted such success before 1914.  Pomp & Circumstance Marches, The Dream of Gerontius, Symphonies and other large-scale works were in the past. The war had seen the rise of women as a working force, film of actual war, air-raids on London, the gardens of London dug up for allotments, the House of Windsor replacing the House of Saxe-Coburg, thousands of disabled men on the streets and a new King.  Elgar retreated to the Sussex countryside in a rented house, “Brinkwells.”  He had a tonsil operation in 1918, a somewhat risky event for an old man, his wife’s health was failing and old friends were dying. He reflected that his music was no longer up to date but and he was no longer able to maintain a cutting edge to his composing.  The music he began writing was chamber music, a new venture for him.  Strange this, as he was a violinist and had played chamber music in Worcester as a much younger boy and man. “I know it does not carry us any further, but it is full of golden sounds and I like it,“ he said about the composition style. The quartet is indeed conservative in overall style and Elgar’s musical fingerprints are easy to hear.  However that does not make it less of a good piece.  The first movement is wistful but full of sudden changes of mood.  Listen hard and hear how the inner parts carry so much of the material leaving the 1st violin decorating the main thrust of the material, how so much of the movement is really in only three parts and the music creates one long musical line rather than a musical discourse amongst itself.  This is not ordinary at all. The second movement is really in three parts and a wonderful piece of counterpoint.  Is it a coincidence that at this time the death of counterpoint was being cheered in the rest musical Europe and that Elgar is making a statement of what could still be achieved with this musical construct?  It is beautiful to play and with the colours of summer and autumn.  “Captured sunshine” was Lady Elgar’s apt comment. A vigorous and contrasting last movement sweeps along to the end but still employs the techniques of the first two movements.  Three part writing, the importance of the inner parts, the characteristic rise and fall of the 6th , the fluid tonality are all there.  The listener is led through a series of events rather than harmonic progression.  This quartet is not about melody, accompaniment and harmony or of a dialogue of four intertwining strands.  It is rather more like four instruments building a monologue to which we are invited to listen. Now that really was new!  Conservative?
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Edward Elgar (1857-1934)  String Quartet in E minor Op 96   1. Allegro moderato  2. Piacevole  3. Allegro molto 1919, and Elgar’s life like so many in that year had been turned upside down.  The new Europe and Britain had been born but where did this leave this elderly Victorian who had tasted such success before 1914.  Pomp & Circumstance Marches, The Dream of Gerontius, Symphonies and other large- scale works were in the past. The war had seen the rise of women as a working force, film of actual war, air-raids on London, the gardens of London dug up for allotments, the House of Windsor replacing the House of Saxe-Coburg, thousands of disabled men on the streets and a new King.  Elgar retreated to the Sussex countryside in a rented house, “Brinkwells.”  He had a tonsil operation in 1918, a somewhat risky event for an old man, his wife’s health was failing and old friends were dying. He reflected that his music was no longer up to date but and he was no longer able to maintain a cutting edge to his composing.  The music he began writing was chamber music, a new venture for him.  Strange this, as he was a violinist and had played chamber music in Worcester as a much younger boy and man. “I know it does not carry us any further, but it is full of golden sounds and I like it,“ he said about the composition style. The quartet is indeed conservative in overall style and Elgar’s musical fingerprints are easy to hear.  However that does not make it less of a good piece.  The first movement is wistful but full of sudden changes of mood.  Listen hard and hear how the inner parts carry so much of the material leaving the 1st violin decorating the main thrust of the material, how so much of the movement is really in only three parts and the music creates one long musical line rather than a musical discourse amongst itself.  This is not ordinary at all. The second movement is really in three parts and a wonderful piece of counterpoint.  Is it a coincidence that at this time the death of counterpoint was being cheered in the rest musical Europe and that Elgar is making a statement of what could still be achieved with this musical construct?  It is beautiful to play and with the colours of summer and autumn.  “Captured sunshine” was Lady Elgar’s apt comment. A vigorous and contrasting last movement sweeps along to the end but still employs the techniques of the first two movements.  Three part writing, the importance of the inner parts, the characteristic rise and fall of the 6th , the fluid tonality are all there.  The listener is led through a series of events rather than harmonic progression.  This quartet is not about melody, accompaniment and harmony or of a dialogue of four intertwining strands.  It is rather more like four instruments building a monologue to which we are invited to listen. Now that really was new!  Conservative?