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Edward Elgar: Letters of a Lifetime ed. by Jerrold Northrop Moore (review)
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The republication of Jerrold Northrop Moore’s fine collection of Elgar’s miscellaneous correspondence, Letters of a Lifetime, is to be warmly welcomed. In the 1980s, David Cannadine remarked in his perceptive but often waspish review of Moore’s biography, Edward Elgar: A Creative Life (Oxford, 1984), that ‘although Elgar has sometimes been out of fashion, he has never been out of print’ (‘Sir Edward Elgar’, in The Pleasures of the Past (London, 1989), 121–30 at 122; originally published in The London Review of Books, vii, 21 Mar. 1985). The same cannot, until now, have been said of Letters of a Lifetime: the volume has proved to be a foundational source for Elgar scholars ever since it first appeared in 1990, but copies have become increasingly difficult (and expensive) to obtain. This new edition is the first volume in a uniform series of the composer’s collected letters to be published by Elgar Works under the general editorship of Martin Bird, Robert Anderson, and John Norris, and which will eventually comprise over thirty volumes. Its renewed availability is timely, not only providing a resource for writers on Elgar’s life and times, but more broadly offering an opportunity to reflect upon recent scholarly work in Elgar studies and related issues of identity, representation, and music historiography.

As Moore states in his preface to the new volume, ‘the temptation to carry out a wholesale but often inconsequential revision of the text has been resisted’ (p. vi). Accordingly, there are few substantive changes in the main part of the text, and there are no new letters here (they will presumably appear in subsequent volumes of the series). The most significant revision concerns the location of the sources themselves: the removal of the composer’s correspondence from the Hereford and Worcester County Record Office to the Elgar Birthplace Museum at Broadheath has entailed tracking a new series of accession numbers, carefully listed by Moore. Hopefully, this inventory will become available for consultation via the museum’s online catalogue, <http://collection.elgarmuseum.org.uk/>, so that scholars finally have access to a fully searchable database of the primary sources. This process has also resulted in fresh information about some of the documents: the whereabouts of Elgar’s letter to Martina Hyde of 3 October 1897, for instance, listed as ‘unknown’ in the 1990 edition and taken from Percy Young’s earlier selective edition of the composer’s correspondence, is now listed as ‘EB Letter 11084’ (pp.71–2). Similarly, Elgar’s letters to Hans Richter, among his most important correspondence as the conductor began to champion his works in the 1900s, are now held in the Hallé Orchestra archive, and are no longer in private ownership. Cross-references to letters printed in Moore’s other edited collections, however, such as The Wind-flower Letters (Elgar’s correspondence with Alice Stuart-Wortley, one of the animating spirits of the Violin Concerto), or Elgar and his Publishers (including the correspondence with his agent, Augustus Jaeger) are made to their original versions published in the 1980s, a citation system that future volumes in the Collected Correspondence will need to negotiate carefully.

The image of Elgar that emerges from rereading Letters of a Lifetime is of a richly complex individual who embodied and attempted to mediate the tensions and contradictions that underpinned his contemporary socio-cultural environment. Cannadine’s claim, that ‘in his heyday, before 1914, [Elgar] was widely acclaimed as Britain’s unofficial musical laureate, the nation’s greatest composer since Purcell; between the wars, he was derided as the pompous quintessence of self-satisfied Edwardian circumstance; and now, in our post-imperial, nostalgia-crazed times, he has re-emerged triumphantly, to provide the backing to all sorts of soap operas, from royal weddings to The Jewel in the Crown’ (‘Sir Edward Elgar’, p. 122) is a reductive summary of his reception, even as it points to certain essential patterns in the understanding and appreciation of his work. Moore’s original introduction to the first edition, reprinted in the new volume, is characteristically more nuanced. ‘Elgar’s letters often seem expressive opposites to his music’, Moore notes. Reading them for the first time, they seem ‘terse...


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