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Froissart, Op 19

'Elgar: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2' (SIGCD179)
Elgar: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
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'Victorian Concert Overtures' (CDH55088)
Victorian Concert Overtures
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Froissart, Op 19
Far removed from London musical institutions and Continental conservatories was an intense, poetic, entirely self-taught aspiring composer in Worcester who in today’s parlance would be described as a peripatetic violin teacher. In a letter dated 1 January 1890, Edward Elgar (1857–1934) was invited to write an orchestral work for that year’s Three Choirs Festival in Worcester. This had undoubtedly been provoked by the rapidly growing local reputation he was gaining as player, composer and conductor, yet even so it was a bold choice. Elgar decided on the form of a descriptive overture (Cockaigne and In the South were to follow) and, fired by references in Scott’s Old Mortality to the medieval chronicler Froissart, he started work in April, prefacing the score with a quotation from Keats: ‘When Chivalry lifted up her lance on high’.

Yet it was probably the two most significant events of the previous year that prompted the 32-year-old composer to undertake this idealised portrait of knightly valour and fidelity to a lady-love: his marriage, and the overwhelming impression created by performances at Covent Garden of Die Meistersinger. The arresting opening of Froissart has the unmistakable imprint of Elgar, but the jaunty, dotted ‘knightly’ figure that pervades much of the overture’s thematic material can be traced back directly to the music with which Walther von Stolzing is introduced to the assembled mastersingers. Two things immediately impress in this astonishingly assured first essay in extended form: the music’s characteristic blend of ebullience and wistfulness, and the orchestration which already has in embryo all the distinguishing features that were so soon to earn the epithet ‘Elgarian’. The composer retained a lifelong affection for the work: revising the score for publication in 1901 he wrote to his friend Jaeger: ‘What jolly healthy stuff it is—quite shameless in its rude young health!’.

from notes by Hugh Priory © 1991

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