#Classical365: 24 – Elgar Symphony No.1

After yesterday’s dramas perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me quite so much I ended up sleeping 12 hours (nearly) solid. One interruption. Woke up when it was still dark. Yesterday’s worries were right there bashing me on the head. I let them come at me. Do your worst. Watched them, eventually, pass me by. Next thing I know, I’ve woken up at 12.15pm. Shaun, our stop-over visitor Friday, has already left. Simon and I left dazed and confused about how spectacularly we’d underestimated the impact of the week. Still, at least the exhaustion last night had meant I hadn’t submitted to the usual end of the working week trick: ‘treating’ myself to a few drinks.

The restorative sleep meant yesterday’s challenges now seemed far less insurmountable. Using the solution arrived at before I got home last night (tick), solution reviewed around lunchtime today during shower, email sent, and problem, I hope, now laid to rest.

Watched a re-run of Winston Churchill’s obituary broadcast by the BBC in 1965. A moving tribute, in which the producer regarded the inclusion of the opening of Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 as necessary. Coloured the whole piece with an overwhelming sense of sadness. Memories flooding back of my own parents memories of the war, of Winston Churchill and their life-stories too. The pictures on the screen seemed to echo the stories they told of that era. It seems a world away and, at the same time, despite the black and white, somehow incredibly present day.

I recognised Elgar’s well-known nobilemente used in the obituary almost immediately. There’s a slight ambiguity to it which makes the opening theme compelling. Like Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto, presents a descriptive challenge. Listening to it again this evening – Elgar’s own recording with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1931 – I think its contentment experienced by a man looking back on his life, a man able to forgive himself for the bad stuff and celebrate the stuff that went well. There’s a sadness in the music: we’re there to say our last goodbyes. The end of the last movement – a reprise of what I think is the counter-subject of the entire symphony is jaw-dropping. Helps remind us this thing is far from over. We’ve a lot further to go.

Earlier on in the day, I listened to Vernon Handley with the London Philharmonic Orchestra while I read over what I’d written after watching Mark Wigglesworth conduct the BBC National Orchestra of Wales perform it at the Proms last year. Handley’s interpretation does what Wigglesworth achieved: there is a turning point in the third movement when something amazing happens. A transition or a transformation – I still can’t put my finger on what occurs or at what point. But something is resolved, or there’s a promise made that everything will be resolved. Something is laid to rest towards the end of the third movement.

It demands closer inspection. Like Mozart 24, Elgar 1 is something which won’t be damaged by repeat listens. Its a work which will result in further insights about itself and the effect it has on its listener.

Why wouldn’t anyone spend time getting acquainted with classical music?

I was listening to Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Elgar and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley on Spotify.

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