Five years before O happy eyes
entered the world, one of Elgar’s early pieces, Sevillana
, was included on the bill for a concert by the ‘orchestral band’ of the Crystal Palace. It stood in company with a waltz by the junior Johann Strauss, a solo by the fashionable south London venue’s resident cornet virtuoso, and Louis Gregh’s tuneful Coquetterie
. Elgar, no doubt propelled by the accolade of a Crystal Palace performance, received a further confidence boost when one of his piano pupils accepted his proposal of marriage. Caroline Alice Roberts, daughter of major-general Sir Henry Gee Roberts, known for his part in the ‘effective’ suppression of the Indian Mutiny, inhabited what one biographer has described as a ‘world of letters’. It was also a world of privilege and rigid class distinctions, one to which Elgar, the Roman Catholic son of a shopkeeper was naturally excluded. The couple married, against Roberts family wishes, in May 1889.
As part of their marital union, Elgar set Alice’s poem, O happy eyes in November, revising his partsong in 1894 when the publishing firm of Novello offered three guineas for its copyright. It finally appeared in print in 1907, issued together with Love, a fine setting of Arthur Maquarie’s poem written on the composer’s fiftieth birthday and dedicated to Alice, by now Lady Elgar.
from notes by Andrew Stewart © 2009