Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Wednesday, February 15

A belated Elgar premiere

Synopsis

We probably have the irrepressible playwright, music critic, and ardent socialist George Bernard Shaw to thank for this music—the Third Symphony of Sir Edward Elgar.

Shaw had been trying to persuade Elgar to write a Third Symphony, and, early in 1932, had written to Elgar: "Why don't you make the BBC order a new symphony. It can afford it!" A few months later, Shaw dashed off a postcard with a detailed, albeit tongue-in-cheek program for the new work: "Why not a Financial Symphony? Allegro: Impending Disaster; Lento mesto: Stone Broke; Scherzo: Light Heart and Empty Pocket; Allegro con brio: Clouds Clearing."

Well, there was a worldwide depression in 1932, but the depression that had prevented Elgar from tacking a new symphony was more personal: the death of his beloved wife in 1920. Despite describing himself as "a broken man," unable to tackle any major projects, when Elgar died in 1934, he left behind substantial sketches for a Third Symphony, commissioned, in fact, by the BBC.

Fast forward 64 years, to February 15th, 1998, when the BBC Symphony gave the premiere performance of Elgar's Third at Royal Festival Hall in London, in a performing version, or "elaboration" of Elgar's surviving sketches, prepared by the contemporary British composer Anthony Payne. It was a tremendous success, and, we would like to think, somewhere in the hall the crusty spirit of George Bernard Shaw was heard to mutter: "Well—about time!"

Music Played in Today's Program

Edward Elgar (1857-1934) Symphony No. 3 (elaborated by Anthony Payne) BBC Symphony; Andrew Davis, cond. NMC 053

Additional Information

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