The great English composer, Sir Edward (Willlam) Elgar, received his earliest music education from his father, who owned a music shop and was organist for the St. George's Roman Catholic Church in Worcester. He also took violin lessons from a local musician. He rapidly acquired the fundamentals of theory and served as arranger with the Worcester Glee Club, becoming its conductor at the age of 22. Simultaneously he accepted a rather unusual position for a young aspiring musician with the County of Worchester Lunatic Asylum at Powick, where he was for several years in charge of the institution's concert band; he was also engaged in various other musical affairs.
In 1885 Edward Elgar succeeded his father as organist at St. George's. He married in 1889 and moved to Malvern, where he stayed from 1891 to 1904. During these years, he conducted the Worcestershire Phil. (1898-1904); in 1905 he accepted the position of Peyton Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham, and in 1911-1912 served as conductor of the London Symphony Orcjestra. He then settled in Hampstead. His wife died in 1920, at which time he returned to Worcester.
Edward Elgar's first signal success was with the concert overture Froissart (Worcester, September 9, 1890). His cantata The Black Knight was produced at the Worcester Festival (April 18, 1893) and was also heard in London at the Crystal Palace (October 23, 1897); the production of his cantata Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf at the North Staffordshire Music Festival (October 30, 1896) attracted considerable attention; he gained further recognition with his Imperial March (1897), composed for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria; from then on, Elgar's name became familiar to the musical public. There followed the cantata Caractacus (Leeds Festival, Octobewr 5, 1898) and Elgar's great masterpiece, the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius (Birmingham Festival, October 14, 1900). He began to give more and more attention to orchstral music. On June 19, 1899, Hans Richter presented the first performance of Elgar's Variations on an Original Theme (generally known as the Enigma Variations) in London. This work consists of 14 sections, each marked by initials of fancied names of Elgar's friends; in later years, Elgar issued cryptic hints as to the identities of these persons, which were finally revealed. He also stated that the theme itself was.a counterpoint to a familiar tune, but the concealed subject was never discovered; various guesses were advanced in the musical press from time to time; a contest for the most plausible answer to the riddle was launched in America by the Saturday Review (1953), with dubious results. The success of the Enigma Variations was followed (1901-1930) by the production of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches, the first of which became his most famous piece through a setting to words by Arthur Christopher Benson, used by Elgar in the Coronation Ode (1902) as Land of Hope and Glory; another successful orchestral work was the Cockaigne Overture (London, June 20, 1901). Elgar's 2 symphonies, written between 1903 and 1910, became staples in the English arch. repertoire. His Violin Concerto, first performed by Fritz Kreisler (London, November 10, 1910), won notable success; there was also a remarkable Cello Concerto (London, October 26, 1919, Felix Salmond soloist, composer conducting).
The emergence of Edward Elgar as a major composer about 1900 was all the more remarkable since he had no formal academic training. Yet he developed a masterly technique of instrumental and vocal writing. His style of composition may be described as functional Romanticism; his harmonic procedures remain firmly within the 19th-century tradition; the formal element is always strong, and the thematic development logical and precise. Elgar had a melodic gift, which asserted itself in his earliest works, such as the popular Salut d'amour, his oratorios, particularly The Apostles, were the product of his fervent religious faith (he was a Roman Catholic). He avoided archaic usages of Gregorian chant; rather, he presented the sacred subjects in a communicative style of secular cirama.
Edward Elgar was the recipient of many honors. He was knighted in 1904. He received honorary degrees of Mus.Doc. from Cambridge (1900), Oxford (1905), and Aberdeen (1906); also an LL.D. from Leeds (1904). During his first visit to the USA, in 1905, he received a D.Mus. degree from Yale University; in 1907 he was granted the same degree from the University of Western Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh). He received the Order of Merit in 1911; was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1928 and a baronet in 1931; was appointed Master of the King's Musick in 1924.
Edward Elgar was not a proficient conductor, but appeared on various occasions with orchestras in his own works; during the 3rd of his 4 visits to the USA (1905, 1906, 1907, 1911), he conducted his oratorio The Apostles (New York, 1907); also led the mass chorus at the opening of the British Empire Exhibition in 1924. His link with America was secured when the hymnlike section from his first Pomp and Circumstance march became a popular recession march for American high school graduation exercises.