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168 GEORGE MOORE TO EDWARD ELGAR: EIGHTEEN LETTERS ON DIARMUID AND GRANIA AND OPERATIC DREAMS By Eileen Kennedy (Kean College of New Jersey) The stormy collaboration between George Moore and William Butler Yeats in writing Diarmuid and Grania has been told and retold by the authors themselves in Ave and Autobiographies - and in numerous histories, biographies, memoirs, and commentaries on the Irish Literary Theatre. "Literary lunatics," Moore dubbed Yeats and himself. But eighteen unpublished letters of Moore to Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934), who composed the music for the play, illumine, often humorously, the background of that ill-fated production. The letters establish that the printed text of the play is incomplete because "Laban's Song" is omitted.2 The "Song" is Yeats' poem, set to music by Elgar, a lyric intended to heighten the dramatic power of Act I. The letters, supplementing Helmut E. Gerber's extensive analysis of Moore's Irish period,3 show how Moore channeled his extraordinary creative energy and his knowledge of theatrical craftsmanship into the Irish Literary Movement. Sincere in his dedication to its ideals, Moore, as the letters reveal, summoned all his powers of persuasion, cajolery, and calculated flattery to see the production through. The letters underline Moore's recurring dream to have Ireland's past celebrated in a grand opera - and Moore's determination, unshared by the musician, that Elgar is the composer to do it. The letters begin in 1901 ; but even as late as the final one, sometime after 191I. Moore was urging Elgar to write an opera. Unfortunately, no copies of Elgar's replies to Moore apparently exist; but one senses that Elgar felt hounded by Moore's importunities and tried to elude the energetic author. In August I9OI, Moore, with his drama far from complete, went to London and persuaded the Shakespearean actors, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Benson, to play the roles of Diarmuid and Grania in the Dublin production scheduled for October 21, I9OI. Yeats and Moore had wanted Mrs. Pat Campbell to play Grania; but she had demurred, holding out the possibility of a London performance, after an out-of-town production by others first. Sometime between August 14th and August 20th, Moore travelled to Bayreuth for the Wagner Festival, and there read scenes from the play to Henry Wood (I869I944 ), who knew Elgar and had conducted his music. Wood had begun his musical career as a composer, but by 1889 had turned to conducting . When Moore spoke to him, Wood was already well-established . Like Elgar, Wood came from a lower middle-class background; both their fathers had been tradesmen, Elgar's a piano tuner and amateur pianist and violinist. Wood, like Elgar, conducted orchestras at various musical festivals in the provinces; but whereas Elgar was forced to conduct to gain a hearing for his own compositions , Wood preferred conducting. Wood, then, brought Moore and Elgar together, but Moore had to exercise considerable charm in persuading the fairly well-known composer to write incidental music for a still-unfinished play scheduled for opening in two months. Why the composer of The 169 Dream of Gerontius would be willing, under such difficult circumstances , to do the music is related to the economic hazards suffered by Victorian and Edwardian composers. At the time of Moore's invitation to Elgar, the composer, in his mid-forties, had achieved, after years of overwork and drudgery, some national recognition. At fifteen, Elgar had left school and gone to work for a short while to a solicitor; but he soon gave it up to study music on his own. No money existed to fulfill his dream of studying at Leipzig. There followed over fifteen years of demanding toilsome work and little financial reward as Elgar earned his living as choirmaster, organist, chamber musician, and teacher of piano; but he mastered his craft during those long years. In the decade between 1889 and 1899» Elgar's extended apprenticeship came to an end. His oratorio, Lux Christi, and his cantata, Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf were produced in I896 at music festivals. In 1897, to honor Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, Elgar wrote "The Imperial March" which was first performed at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 168-187
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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