Elgar’s first published part-song dates from 1890 and marks the beginning of his association with the publishers Novello. It was a cautious and rather inauspicious start from their point of view; they offered no money to the composer, merely a hundred copies in lieu of copyright. When My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land
first appeared, it was said to be ‘crude, ill-written for the voice, laid out without knowledge of the capabilities of the human voice &c &c!’, as Elgar told his friend Jaeger many years later. Yet it is a fine song, despite a conventional setting. In the third verse the melody is given to Soprano and Tenor I, while the other parts sing the words to a repetitive, rhythmic motif – an ‘accompaniment’ device Elgar later used in two of his greatest songs, Death on the Hills
. One might also note in passing that Lang’s poem has the theme – popular in Victorian times and frequently used by Elgar – of youthful love, often unfulfilled and/or brought to an end by premature death.
from notes by Geoffrey Hodgkins © 1998