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Edward Elgar: A Guide to Research.

Recent trends in Elgar studies have seen a welcome move away from the preoccupations of the enigma solvers towards the confrontation of musicological and cultural issues of more significance to our understanding of the composer and his milieu. The present volume is a further landmark in this progress; indeed, the author cites in his preface an ever increasing scholarly interest in 'stylistic, technical and analytical' approaches to Elgar's music as the impetus behind his decision to assemble the systematic collation of sources which comprises the first, and largest, section of the book. The task has not been attempted before--although mention should be made of Robert Anderson's valuable but selective discussion of manuscripts in the British Library especially (Elgar in Manuscript, London, 1990)--and Christopher Kent's work is likely therefore to prove an indispensable starting-point for subsequent research.

Under the title 'Elgar's Compositions', Part I of the book casts its net wide, drawing in everything from youthful arrangements of other composers through to the series of piano extemporizations recorded for the gramophone (but never written down) by the composer towards the end of his life. Within the chronological sequence adopted, major published works thus rub shoulders with tentative sketches for projects which never got off the ground, and with snippets such as the 'moods of Dan' scribbled into G. R. Sinclair's visitors' book to illustrate the characteristics of his bulldog. In general this presentation works well, although the chronology does occasionally become distorted by the need for tidiness: conjecturally dated entries (such as two songs probably written during January 1914) are placed at the end of their likely year of composition (in this case following Carillon, which received its premiere on 7 December). More significantly, the sketches for the incomplete conclusion of the Apostles project occur as the final entry of all, even though they were surely the last thing on Elgar's mind at the end of 1933. The short tribute to Elgar's own dog, Mina, on the other hand, the orchestration of which occupied the composer in August of that year, is placed in December 1932, at the time of its 'composition' (although, as Kent's list of editions makes clear, the piece has no existence independent of its orchestral presentation).

Each entry includes, where known, details of sketches and proof locations, dates of composition, texts, dedications, first performances, editions, and a list of relevant literature. The collation of primary sources is by and large exemplary, Kent the scholar having kept well up to date with the movements of Elgarian material through archives, auctions and dealers' catalogues. Omissions are therefore very few, although Kent has deferred to a number of private individuals who wish to remain anonymous; in such instances a more detailed description of the material which remains 'in private ownership' might have helped the prospective enquirer decide whether a particular source was likely to be worth pursuing. One important repository of early material, shortened by Kent to 'J.A.' is unfortunately absent from his list of abbreviations, and the reader has to search the acknowledgements section to find the appropriate reference to the Archives of the Society of Jesus.

While Kent's detective work has undoubtedly been thorough, his presentation of the sources is let down by an inadequate and inconsistently applied system of cross-referencing which fails to make the most of the information which has been so successfully garnered. Elgar's sketchbooks were a treasure-house which he plundered continually, ideas dating back to 1879 being called into use as late as 1933. Kent's comprehensive list of compositions, both complete and fragmentary, together with his use of RISM-style sigla to identify each entry, has provided him with the opportunity to tie all these threads together, but in practice he is less than rigorous in doing so. Material for the Wand of Youth suites, for example, was taken from various sketches and completed projects from earlier years, all of which are allotted independent entries in the collation. Some of these contain specific cross-references to the suites, while others (such as the 'Humoresque' of 1867 which was to form the basis of the concluding 'Fairies and Giants' movement of the first suite) do not; in only one instance is there a direct reference back from the mature works to the source. Otherwise the entries for The Wand of Youth include sketch locations without reference to the appearance of these in different contexts earlier in the collation.

There is inconsistency too in Kent's treatment of supplements to completed works. The addition to The Fringes of the Fleet of an extra song, 'Inside the bar', after the first performance, merits a separate entry with a cross-reference to the parent work, but Elgar's composition of a completely new second movement for the Coronation Ode, for the enthronement of George V in 1911 (the superseded test having alluded specifically to Queen Alexandra's Danish origins), is ignored altogether in the entries for 1911, and mentioned only indirectly in the list of sources for the original 1901 score. Dedications are treated somewhat haphazardly also, appearing occasionally in full ('To my father--with affection' for an anthem of 1880) but elsewhere abbreviated to the name of the dedicatee only; a list of personalia in the appendices would have helped to explain the identities of some of the less familiar dedicatees and also to clarify some of Elgar's private jokes, such as the dedication to 'Professor Exton' (no academic but a member of Elgar's youthful woodwind quintet in the 1870s).

In his list of editions, Kent is judiciously selective in his choice of latter-day publications which have appeared since the cessation of copyright on Elgar in 1984. He has been assiduous in tracking down first editions, although I would question his preference for Schott's 1913 full score of Dream Children (and his adoption of Schott's French retitling of the work) to that of Joseph Williams published in 1902. Occasionally, inadequate cross-referencing has again resulted in inaccuracies; thus the two entries for the Sonatina for piano, distinguishing the original version of 1889 from the revision of 1930, duplicate publication details, when in fact only the revision was published.

The author performs a valuable service in listing the volume of Novello's Elgar Complete Edition into which each work falls, bracketing those volume numbers which have yet to appear, although he seems undecided between pages 70 and 77 as to the status of Vol. 12 (which in fact remains unpublished). A number of references to Vol. 46 also call for comment, since this is three beyond the total projected number listed at the end of the bibliography in Part II. Whether every sketch included in the collation really deserves the place in the edition here reserved for it is another matter; some of these ideas are no more than passing fancies and may have involved less serious thought on Elgar's part than other projects for which no sketches now survive (such as a proposed setting of Jean Ingelow's 'The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire', although this might itself have merited an entry on the basis of sharing a sketch from 1901 with The Apostles). One wonders also whether space to be given over in the edition to Elgar's early arrangements of Schumann and Wagner should not have been allotted instead to his more imaginative and accomplished piano and vocal score arrangements of his own mature masterpieces.

Each entry in the collation concludes with a list of relevant literature; since the sequence of page numbers has in each case simply been culled directly from the index of the source, however, this is likely to prove less useful than a selective highlighting of important references might have been. There are a few avoidable misprints, but these will disturb the reader less than other problems of layout resulting from economies in the production process, including the starting of entries on the bottom line of a page, an inappropriate use of italics for all titles (whether generic, pictorial or conjectural and encompassing also opus numbers, explanatory amplifications and even collaborators), and an absence of distinction between original and editorial punctuation: a list of the projected settings for the incomplete song cycle Op. 59 has identical question marks punctuating the titles of three numbers, indicating in two cases speculation regarding the texts of unfinished pieces, while the third is part of the title of a completed song ('Was it some golden star?').

Part II of the book comprises an annotated bibliography in twelve sections which provides ample confirmation of Kent's prefatory observation that 'from the biographical viewpoint Elgar has been ... very well served', but to the comparative neglect of scholarly discussion of his music. It is a pity that Kent's long catalogue of attempts to solve the 'enigma' of the Variations was completed before the appearance of an essay by Francis Sparshott ('Portraits in Music--a Case Study: Elgar's "Enigma" Variations', in The interpertation of Music: Philosophical Essays, ed. Michael Krausz, Oxford, 1993), which in its belated realization that 'there is no way of solving the problems [Elgar] seems to set us' should finally draw this protracted and distracting chapter of Elgarian sleuthing to a close. Kent admits to 'a degree of selectivity' in the compilation of the bibliography, but his omissions are sometimes surprising, nevertheless. Among the writings of contemporary journalists, he includes Arthur Johnstone's Musical Criticisms but not E. A. Baughan's Music and Musicians (London, 1906); Mary Anderson de Navarro's reminiscences find a place ahead of those of Arnold Bax and Osbert Sitwell to name but two; a brief discussion in Hadow's Collected Essays is preferred to the considered comparisons between 'Brahms and Elgar' and 'Elgar and Mahler' in H. C. Colles's Essays and Lectures (London, 1945); and Frank Howes's survey The English Musical Renaissance is chosen ahead not only of Peter J. Pirie's work of the same title (London, 1979) but also Ernest Walker's important early evaluation of Elgar in A History of Music in England (Oxford, 1907). Moreover, Kent's annotations, while often perceptive, fall somewhat between two stools, being neither rigorously critical nor entirely detached. Nevertheless, the bibliography, which is particularly notable for its strong European and American coverage and its inclusion of a selection of articles from the Elgar Society Journal (not abstracted elsewhere), constitutes a welcome addition to those already available and has the advantage of being current to the beginning of 1991.

The third part of the guide is devoted to Elgar archives, and here Kent's comprehensive listings and succinct annotations draw the reader's attention towards a wealth of often untapped material. In some cases his efforts have been hampered by inadequate cataloguing of a collection (not least that of the Elgar Birthplace), and his transcription of the Hereford and Worcester County Record Office's own typescript of their extensive holdings will disappoint anyone with practical experience of the shortcomings of that list. His annotations throw up various further references to sketch material (relating, for example, to the Violin Concerto, the Second Symphony and In the South in the case of a set of scrapbooks at the Elgar Birthplace) which he fails to mention either in the collation of sources or in the Index of Works in Part IV, which limits itself to noting the page number of the main entry for each work. These omissions underline once again the main drawback of the guide: thorough indexing and cross-referencing are of prime importance to the successful use of a reference tool of these proportions, and for Kent to have brought to light so much of value only to partly bury it again amounts to something of a missed opportunity.

That said, the significance of this guide to Elgar studies for those willing to accommodate its shortcomings of layout and presentation can hardly be overestimated. In making the results of fifteen years' research so widely accessible, Dr Kent has put all Elgarians in his debt, an obligation which can best be repaid through the fulfilment of his hope that his work might open up new avenues of research and lead to increased understanding of Elgar's music in the new century.
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Author:Grogan, Christopher
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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