Last Sunday I came back from a rehersal working on Elgar’s Sonata for the upcoming concert at the Cafe Montage, during which the whole city’d been battered around by gigantic snowfall. The work is almost (!) complete and I think it’ll be quite splendid for people to immerse themselves in 🙂
As the event is approaching closer (less than a week), I’ll make this an occasion to remind you that it’ll take place on January 21st 2017 at 20:00 (GMT+9) at Cafe Montage. And it’ll likely be an extraordinary evening filled with a group of very receptive and earnest music-fans. (Right now only 1/3 of the seats are remaining)
So let me start telling you a little bit about the Sonata of Elgar by providing you with its overall background;
The time is 1918, with the First World War reaching its end. The war was absolutely brutal, defeating their previously optimistic view that it’d be over by the Christmas of 1914.
In Britain people had heard about the German atrocities via media when Belgium was seized. Then on a nightly basis London received severe air-raid from Zeppelins which burned houses and military factories to the ground. People were growing wearier and sicker day after day, and according to Michael Kennedy, the author of the Portrait of Elgar, the war was to Elgar “the epitomization of despair in his soul.” It was around this time that he begun to feel tired with the urban life and to seek a new cottage in Brinkwells, Sussex for peace and solitude yet again. His letter to Schuster, with whom held an intimate friendship, best symbolizes his state of living at the time:
“High Summer! and divine warmth which I know you enjoy with me… I am better but not fit for the world & don’t seem to want it – I get a few fish & read & smoke (praise be!) but there are only about six people I want to see & you are one – number one I mean, the rest follow…”
From the record of these letters and that the Sonata was completed on 1 October 1918, we may safely assume it was being composed sometime between August and September at the Brinkwells cottage. The compositional style of the Sonata slightly resembles those he’d written in his youth such as small pieces for violin, and a significant deal of nostalgia can be discerned. All the melodic and singing passages in every movement of the Sonata are the quite explicit figure of Elgar looking back to his old times in Worcestershire.
Elgar marked “resoluto” at the beginning of the 1st movement which signifies its character – “bold and vigorous”, says Elgar. The theme is full of energy however it also maintains high dignity.
The second movement (Romance) was, according to his letter, composed right afer he received a telegram about Alice Stuart’s breaking her leg in an accident that summer, to whom he sent some sketches of the Sonata and a letter dated 11 September. After the exotically mysterious exposition much similar to La capricieuse (1891) in its fickle vein, we have this middle section whose melody exudes both noble tranquility and evocative magnificence. There’s something far beyond what we consider “beauty” in it that’s nearly impossible to be described in words, and that’s exactly what makes this section the high-point of the whole Sonata.
Althoughthe Sonata began in a minor key, the last movement opens in a major key, which anticipates somewhat “happy” ending if that’s a quite right word. Just before the coda, Elgar made a recurrence of the middle section from the Romance in honor of an old friend of the Elgars, Marie Joshua to whom this Sonata was dedicated, dying four days after the inscription of her name onto the score. It is only natural that Elgar had a mixed feeling about this movement, and it’s easy to recognize his attempt to combine the “broad and soothing” subject and the reminiscent passage with all the transitions made in suggestion of Wagner’s chromaticism in-between, topped off by the heroic ending.