Friday, February 23, 2024

A wonderful day of Life

’A wonderful day of Life
Very sunny & fine.
Left Fenton with Willie & E. soon after 10.
at 11 - Glorious King Olaf a magnificent triumph.’
These are a few lines from the diary of the famous English composer Edward Elgar, who died 90 years ago today. Five volumes of his diaries have been published so far, with two more volumes to come. But if the first volume is anything to go by, the majority of diary entries are very short and prosaic, little more than a record of events and meetings.

Elgar was born in 1857, in the small village of Lower Broadheath, outside Worcester, England. His father owned a music shop and was a church organist. Elgar himself had little formal education in music and was largely self-taught, studying classical literature and compositions on his own and learning to play several instruments. Early work experiences included being a teacher, local bandmaster, and a church organist. He composed music for local events and societies, gradually building a reputation. In 1889, he married  Caroline Alice Roberts, a successful novelist. They spent much of their lives in and around Malvern, and Caroline acted as Elgar’s business manager and social secretary. They had one daughter, Carice.

Elgar’s breakthrough came in 1899 with a set of orchestral pieces - Enigma Variations - a composition that established him as a leading figure in British music. The following year, he composed another major work, the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, which many consider his masterpiece. In 1904, Elgar was knighted, and from 1905 to 1908 he was the University of Birmingham’s first professor of music. His Pomp and Circumstances works were written between 1901 and 1907. 

During World War I, Elgar wrote occasional patriotic pieces. After the death of his wife in 1920, he virtually stopped composing, returning to Worcestershire in 1929. A friendship with George Bernard Shaw is said to have stimulated him to further composition, and at his death - on 23 February 1934 - he left an unfinished a third symphony, a piano concerto, and an opera. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Edward Elgar website.

Elgar may have been a great composer, but he was not a great diarist. Nevertheless, all his extant diaries - which had been used by generations of biographers but never previously been published - are being published in seven volumes as part of the ‘Collected Correspondence’. Five of the diaries have been transcribed and edited by Martin Bird and published by Elgar Works. Although Bird died in 2019, Paul Chennell has been appointed to conclude the final two volumes.

As Bird explains in his introduction to the first volume - Provincial Musician: Diaries 1857-1896 - the diaries were not kept by Elgar alone.

‘The Elgar family diaries, as we know them today, comprise a series of diaries and notebooks by Edward and Alice Elgar and their daughter Carice, covering a period of fifty years, from 1889 to 1939. This period encompasses the marriage of Edward and Alice through to the death of Carice’s husband. Samuel Blake, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. [. . .]

It seems likely that for much of the time there were multiple diaries in use: a family diary in which was written a retrospective record of the Elgars’ activities; Edward’s appointments diary; Edward’s diary containing his own retrospective record of activities; and a ‘tear off’ diary pad on which daily household appointments could be recorded. Carice, too, kept a diary, though none before 1921 is known to survive.

The first known diary to survive intact, of 1889, is Edward’s. In it he makes brief notes of his daily activities. The 1890 diary is also Edward’s, though here Alice provides the occasional entry. By 1891 the diaries have become very much a joint affair, with the balance of entries shifting gradually from Edward to Alice. From March 1895 entries are almost entirely by Alice, with the occasional comment by Edward. She kept up her recording of Elgarian activities until shortly before her death in 1920. From 1895 to 1920 just two of Edward’s diaries are known to survive, those for 1918 and 1920, and a few for the years after Alice’s death.

There is also a series of Elgar’s notebooks from some of the major holidays he took - to Paris in 1880, to Scotland in 1884. to Bavaria, Alassio, the Mediterranean cruise of 1905 and the West Country tour of 1910.’

The first volume’s contents offer a multitude of very short prosaic diary entries, sometimes combined with an explanatory narrative. Here’s a few examples.

17 August 1880
‘Left Victoria with C.E.P. (travelling 2nd Class) for Newhaven went on board the “Bordeaux”, about 10.30. Rough passage, not very ill, arrd. Dieppe abt. 6.30. Washed, had coffee &c. started for Paris 7.39, arrived there at 1.45, two hours late.’

18 August 1880
‘Wednesday, at Hotel Buckingham, Rue Pasquier, 32. Near the Madeleine, recommended here by Beare. Washed &c. Lunched at 3. Walked down to Notre Dame past the Louvre. Table d’hote at 6, too tired to eat. Strolled up the Boulevards until 10. Then bed. Very fine & hot.’

19 August 1880
‘Thursday. Slept well & comfortable rose at 9.30. started out at 11, saw S. Augustin Madeleine, S. Roch. portion of the Louvre, paintings & sculpture &c, refreshed. Palais Royal, all the shops &c. Charlie went home to write, went alone into Jardin de Tuilleries Place de la Concorde. Cabinet 15c. hair! Home to table d’hote at 6. rain & thunder &c: went into café opposite for billiards with some English, laughed consumedly at two Frenchmen playing. Afterwards, being fine, walked up the Champs Elysees to Arc de Triomphe, back again to Café chantant (programme) rather leggy. Home at 11’

1 January 1890
‘New-year’s day. Very fine & cold.
Miss E. Lander & Mr J. C. Ledlie to luncheon. Music after.’

2 January 1890
‘To the Misses Raikes. 15 Kensington Gardens Terr till Saturday Arrived in time for luncheon.
(E. to Beares)’

3 January 1890
‘at Ken: Gard: Terrace
E. called at Tuckwoods about Voluntaries & song ‘Man’
In afternoon to Farm St then Benediction Music at Ken. Gard: Terr present Genrl. R. Raikes Mr R. & Mrs R. Raikes Mrs & Miss Lambcn & Mr. &c’

4 January 1890
A & E to Tudor exhbn. called Schott’s
After luncheon, called Miss Raikes Talbot Sq & Miss Marshall Home to Oaklands 6.10’

5 January 1890
‘Very dull & wet.
At home all day.’

30 October 1896
‘A wonderful day of Life
Very sunny & fine.
Left Fenton with Willie & E. soon after 10.
at 11 - Glorious King Olaf a magnificent triumph.
Back to Fenton about 4.
The Pennys to tea.’

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