05 Feb 2013

Elgar – In the South

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, triangle, snare drum, glockenspiel, cymbals, harp, strings.

Duration: 19 minutes.

THE COMPOSER – EDWARD ELGAR (1857-1934) – Elgar was prone to stress-related infirmities even in the best of times. He was riding high at the turn of the century thanks to the popularity of the Enigma Variations, but was burdened with the hope of his countrymen for a grand “English” symphony. Travel became a tonic for Elgar and Italy was his preferred refuge after 1903. He visited there at least 5 times over the next decade.

THE MUSIC – It was a common custom in the 19th and early 20th centuries for people of means in Europe’s colder countries to winter in Italy and Spain. For a few of the artistic French, Spain became an obsession. Italy too proved a capable enchantress with Mendelssohn’s 4th Symphony and Strauss’ Aus Italien serving as prime examples of her charms. Elgar’s first trip occurred shortly after the premiere of his oratorio The Apostles in 1903. It was an instant hit but it did little to relieve the pressure Elgar felt to compose a true symphony. He first travelled to Bordighera but found it too full of British expats to feel much like a break from home. From there Elgar made his way to the town of Alassio and in that coastal city he found inspiration, though not yet for the symphony he knew his nation expected. While called an overture, In the South is more rightly identified as a tone poem in its design and impact. Comparisons to Strauss are obvious in this regard, not only for the similarity of the source (recall Aus Italien) but also for the athletic, boisterous opening measures that bring Don Juan to mind. Elgar said the music came to him “in a flash” while walking by an ancient Roman road and that all that remained was to simply “write it down.”  Like Strauss, Elgar’s tonal imagery is notable for its facile mood shifting and colorful orchestration.      

THE WORLD – The Anglo-Tibetan Treaty was signed in 1904, gaining coveted trade concessions for Britain. Also that year, the stage play Peter Pan debuted in London and the Herero people of South-West Africa staged an uprising against German colonial rule.   

THE CONNECTION – In the South has only been performed by the Utah Symphony on one previous Masterworks program. Guest Conductor Christopher Seaman was on the podium in 2007.