Elgar and His World
Eighteenth Annual Bard Music Festival
Edward Elgar (1857–1934) was the first English composer of international importance after the death of Purcell. A controversial figure within the context of the English musical establishment of his day, Elgar was an outsider to the closed world of Victorian society due to his class origins, his religion, and, indeed, his profession. Born in humble circumstances, Elgar was one of the most spectacularly successful autodidacts in the history of music, virtually self-taught as a composer. Initially a composer with a modest local reputation in provincial circles, his status changed practically overnight with the first performance in 1899 of his "Enigma" Variations, Op. 36. He proceeded to secure a preeminent position in British musical life through the rapid creation of major compositions, such as The Dream of Gerontius and the Cello Concerto, among others.
The Bard Music Festival will explore Elgar as a composer whose music uniquely expressed the Zeitgeist of a complex era. Elgar provides a nexus for a searching investigation of musical and societal developments in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Furthermore, Elgar's uncertain class status, along with his vacillating religious beliefs and evolving aesthetics, invite consideration of his music and personality through the prism provided by revisionist history, psychology, and culture. Elgar's world is not just that of Wagner, Brahms, Fauré, and Strauss—and his younger British colleagues such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, and Arthur Bliss—but also encompasses Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, John Singer Sargent, and Siegfried Sassoon.
Princeton University Press will again publish a volume of new scholarship and interpretation. This year's volume, Elgar and His World, the 18th in the series, is edited by Byron Adams, scholar in residence for the 2007 festival.