Friday, December 30, 2005

Sensational scoop - Elgar was German

More than half of Britons polled do not realise that Elgar was English or that Beethoven was born in Germany, according to a survey for the digital arts and culture channel Artsworld.

In a poll of nearly 1,200 people, Artsworld discovered that more than 85% of those surveyed described their knowledge of classical music as "average" or "worse than average".

Nearly two-thirds were unable to identify Mozart as composer of The Marriage of Figaro. The poll found that only 46.7% identified Sir Edward Elgar as English, with the remainder plumping for German or Austrian.

From today's Guardian.
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Another Elgar 'discovery' - will it never end?

6 comments:

Emily said...

Once upon a time, when I was in music school, some friends and I decided to take sidewalk chalk and decorate all the sidewalks going into the music building. Our favorite phrases?

"Abandon hope all ye who enter here"

and

"Edward Elgar was a drag queen."

We didn't mean anything personal. Just the surrealism of calling Elgar a drag queen tickled our funny bone effectively.

Pliable said...

Emily, may not have been as surreal as you thought.

Follow this link.

Anonymous said...

Thinking that Elgar was German (or Austrian) is not so misguided as one might suppose. Germany was a significant and early champion of Elgar's music (to a greater extent, in some cases, than the English audience). Richard Strauss wrote in Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung "An Englishman, Edward Elgar, came to the Lower Rhine Festival and gained a hearing for his oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. With that work England for the first time became one of the modern musical states..." In the summer of 1975 I had the dusty (and largely unrewarding) task of sorting through a garage full of tea chests of withdrawn stock from Tyneside Public Libraries, in the hope of salvaging any volumes worth keeping for a new academic library that was being set up. In one volume, serving as a bookmarker, I found a postcard showing the holiday resort of Bordighera (a holiday destination of the Elgars) written from the Hotel Royal (3rd December 1903) by Elgar to the conductor (or possibly, choirmaster) of the German performance of The Dream of Gerontius given in Darmstadt on October 19th that year. Elgar says ..."I am rejoiced to know that you like my music & that 'Gerontius' had the good fortune to be presented under your distinguished guidance ...". The first performance of Gerontius (Birmingham Festival, Oct 3rd 1900) was attended by Prof. Julius Buths who was inspired to provide a German translation, and the German version was first performed in May 1902 at the Lower Rhine Festival in Dusseldorf (hence Richard Strauss' accolade). The Darmstadt performance was (I think) the third German performance.
The Elgars were enthusiastic holidaymakers in the German regions in the 1890s. The choral settings In the Bavarian Highlands is one result of that enthusiasm. See http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/nov00/elgarbook.htm

P.S. The postcard I found was presented to the archives at the Elgar Birthplace Museum at Broadheath.

solitudex said...

I'm thinking they probably didn't quite get the idea that Edward Elgar was a German from his connections with Germany and suspecting that those Britons who took the poll didn't even know that he was a composer and might just have thought that he was a soccer player.

What an interesting poll yet sad at the same time if that level of knowledge of classical music is considered as average...

Anonymous said...

(reply to Solitudex) Yes, of course they got the idea of Elgar's German-ness from the miasma of unknowing that shrouds (it seems)the respondents to most of those sorts of polls. It was I who posted the comment about Elgar's affection for Germany, and it was only intended as an interesting sidelight and an ironic comment on the coincidence that sheer ignorance appeared to match historical actuality !
Every year I have music students who mix up the Tudor composer John Taverner (c.1490-1545) with the Second Elizabethan composer John Tavener (1944 - ). Though it could be argued that there is some similarity in style which makes the confusion more understandable in that case...

Pliable said...

But then Anonymous, confusing the 15th century John Taverner with the 20th century John Tavener is equally understandable, particularly as Tavener himself promotes the connection.

A scroll entitled The Ancestry of the Taverner Family has been used by John Tavener to promote a line of descent to his Tudor namesake. Sadly research suggests the support for such a connection is not robust.