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Listening to Elgar, Episode One

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I'm going to try to share my observations on Elgar's music as I make an attempt to listen to as much of it as I can in chronological order, starting with his earliest known composition....

In the TV adaptation of P G Wodehouse’s story “Jeeves and the Song of Songs”, Bertie Wooster’s friend Tuppy thinks he’s fallen in love with Cora Bellinger, a noted soprano. We are first given a glimpse of the somewhat unprepossessing La Bellinger as she sings to piano accompaniment in the home of the weekend host of Bertie, Tuppy and several other guests. After the performance, Tuppy tells Bertie of his passion for the singer and says, “What a wonderful…noise…she makes, Bertie.”

It’s a scene that involuntarily replays in my mind whenever I hear vocal parlor music. It’s what I thought of when I listened to a recording of Elgar’s first known composition, the song “The Language of Flowers”, which he wrote at the tender age of fourteen as a birthday present for his sister Lucy. The poem that provided the lyrics for this, what might be considered rather cloyingly sentimental piece, was written by an American botanist and poet James Gates Percival.

The music Elgar came up with to set this poem reminded me a bit of Stephen Foster’s. It brought back to me the Nonesuch LP I used to own with the late mezzo Jan DeGaetani singing Foster’s songs. I would have liked to have heard how Elgar’s song would have sounded in DeGaetani’s slightly more understated style.

At any rate, Elgar’s melodic gift can already be sensed to an oh-so-limited degree in this piece of juvenilia. I could listen to it much more appreciatively if I could just get the image of Cora Bellinger out of my head.
Classical Music , Composers