The last year of the war had stirred Elgar's creative gift to something approaching its best, to produce the chamber works and the Cello Concerto; but the death of his wife in April 1920 was a crushing blow, and he found many of the changes of the post-war world difficult to adjust to. It was not until 1923 that he began to compose original music again, when his friend the critic Robin Legge requested two part-songs for an American male-voice ensemble, the DeReszke Singers. Elgar responded with The Wanderer
, to some seventeenth-century words he found, and to which he added an opening stanza of his own. As Jerrold Northrop Moore put it, ‘[he] created a poem which reflected astonishingly his own mood since his wife’s death’. The nostalgic tone is set in Elgar’s own opening verse, which speaks of wandering through woodlands, and ‘tuning a song’ among the trees; but later he wanders into the wilderness and eventually faces up to death. The second song, Zut, zut, zut
, a ‘marching-song’, was set to some words of his own written under the pseudonym ‘Richard Mardon’. Over the repeated syllable of the title, the song celebrates the ‘lads’ who ‘fiercely fought for freedom’. The nostalgic note is present: ‘shall we forget our old-time march-song? The lads sang it so, Long, long ago’. The final words speak of ‘Glory to them and a fame’, but there is no triumphal ending, the march fading into silence.
from notes by Geoffrey Hodgkins © 1998