Autograph manuscript of Elegy
(also known as Dirge)
by Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Elgar, Honorary Freeman of the Company, winner of the Cobbett Medal “for services to Chamber Music” in 1928 and holder of the Company’s first John Clementi Collard Life Fellowship, composed the Dirge at the request of Alfred Littleton, Chairman of Novello & Co., his music publisher. Littleton had been prompted to make the request for such a memorial piece by Arthur Hill, a member of the Court, after the sudden death of the Reverend Robert Hadden, the Junior Warden of the Company, in 1909. The Dirge was composed in six days.
Interestingly, apprenticed to Reverend Hadden at the time of his death, was a 20 year old Adrian Cedric Boult. That apprentice was subsequently 'turned over' to Mr John Clementi Collard who had already made a significant contribution to the Company as Master 3 times over and would in 1931 fund and establish two fellowships in his name - one of them, the 'Collard Life Fellowship', being awarded to Elgar as specified above.
In a letter written from Severn House, Hampstead accompanying the manuscript, Elgar apologises for “the red ink disaster on the first page”! A photocopy of this 1916 letter can be seen adjacent to the manuscript (see below).
First performed privately on 13 July 1909 at the Mansion House, and in public in St Paul’s Cathedral on 22 November 1914, the Dirge or Elegy is still played annually in the Cathedral, at the Company’s Annual Evensong Service, in memory of members who have died during the preceding year.
On 29 August 1933 Elgar recorded the piece, under the title Elegy, for HMV in Kingsway Hall with the strings of the London Philharmonic. It was the last work he was to conduct on record, making a wistfully appropriate close to his glorious career. Click below to hear this 1933 performance, digitally remastered by EMI in 1993.