Composers Datebook®

Elgar lights up?

Composer's Datebook - July 10, 2023


On today’s date in 1919, the British composer Edward Elgar finished a work he labeled jokingly as his “Opus 1001” – a 50-second “Smoking Cantata,” intended, according to the manuscript score, as "an edifying, allegorical, improving, expostulatory, educational, persuasive, hortatory, instructive, dictatorial, magisterial, inadautory work.”

The score was completed at the Hertfordshire home of a wealthy banker named Edward Speyer, one of Elgar’s oldest friends, to whom the manuscript was given.  When Elgar came to stay, Speyer had only one request, that the composer and his musician friends, “Kindly do not smoke in the hall or on the staircase.”

That’s also full text of Elgar’s cantata.

In the middle of his manuscript, Elgar drew a medieval hell's mouth, belching smoke.  The little score was discovered, performed, and recorded for the first time in July of 2003.

Music Played in Today's Program

Edward Elgar (1857-1934) Smoking Cantata Andrew Shore, bar; Hallé Orchestra; Mark Elder, conductor. Hallé CD HLL-7505

On This Day


  • 1835 - Polish composer and violinist Henryk Wieniawski, in Lubin

  • 1895 - German composer and music educator, Carl Orff, in Munich

  • 1933 - Broadway composer Jerry Herman, in New York City


  • 1940 - British composer and conductor Sir Donald Tovey, age 64, in Edinburgh

  • 1941 - Jazz pianist and composer Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, age 55, in Los Angeles

  • 1979 - American conductor of the Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler, age 84; He started the first outdoor "Esplanade Concerts" in Boston in 1929 and the famous "Boston Pops" series in 1930; In 1979, Fiedler was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

  • 1983 - German composer Werner Egk, age 82, in Inning (near Munich)


  • 1733 - Handel: oratorio "Athalia," in Oxford at the Sheldonian Theater, with Handel conducting from keyboard (Gregorian date: July 21)

  • 2001 - Bernstein (arr. William David Brohn): "West Side Story" Suite for violin and orchestra, in New York's Central Park, with soloist Joshua Bell and the New York Philharmonic, William Eddins, conducting


  • 1741 - Charles Jennens, the librettist for Handel's oratorio "Saul," writes to a friend: "Handel says he will do nothing next Winter, but I hope I shall persuade him to set another Scripture collection I have made for him, and perform it for his own benefit in passion week. I hope he will lay out his whole genius and skill upon it, that the composition may excel as his former compositions, as the subject excels every other subject. The subject is Messiah." (Gregorian date: July 21)

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®