on 12 May 2008
To claim that Elgar's music is inextricably linked to the Malverns Hills and the surrounding countryside is by no means new nor revolutionary - indeed it has become a cliché to make such comments - but what does this really mean? For the first time, this claim is studied in some detail by a renowned Elgar expert and the result is two-hundred pages of carefully-researched, detailed, and mature reflection on this subject.
Moore has explored most (if not all) of the major works, with a particular focus on "The Dream of Gerontius" and the Symphonies. The content is a mixture of brief biographical comments and analysis of the chosen works (which are in great detail, considering the size of the book). In particular, Moore brings out Elgar's intensely personal nature and his disturbing psychological issues - there is a real sense of tragedy, and at times reads more like a novel.
Without wishing to ruin the book for those about to purchase it (and you must!), Moore's "big theory" is that Elgar's greatest melodies all derive from the same characteristics (such as a pattern of falling fifths) and that this idea is present in a small sketch he made as a boy (called the "tune from Broadheath"). Some readers may find claims such as this a little far-fetched, but Moore is a convincing writer and, whilst he does not dictate a single view on the composer, has certainly chosen and presented his evidence in a certain light, and I found his writing both reliable and persuasive.
This small tome has provided a completely fresh and invigorating study of a composer who has been greatly misunderstood, not least by myself. This book pauses for thought and invites a reassessment of the man and his music, which I think is what the author intended. In this, it is a hugely successful book and should be read by anyone with a vague interest in Elgar's work, although it would certainly help if the reader was at least literate in musical notation, as Moore provides a number of extracts which are integral to the study as a whole.
A must-read for the Elgar fan and the British musician - a perfect example of brief, intelligent, and inspired musicology.
For those looking for a book with more biographical content, try Nicolas Kenyon's "Elgar: an anniversary portrait", although the present volume would satisfy most musicians.
on 20 September 2007
Moore's book shows that elements of Elgar's mature works, including the Enigma Variations, The Dream of Gerontius and the Cello Concerto, can be found in the pieces of music the composer wrote as a young boy growing up in Worcester. He demonstrates that these early efforts reveal characteristic rhythms and harmonies--a kind of musical DNA--that reasserted themselves throughout a lifetime of musical composition.
But music is more than a series of notes, and Moore is equally concerned with the vision that animates Elgar's work. He begins by asking how music can conjure up a specific landscape, and, after showing how one Elgar composition after another reflects the light and contours of the Worcestershire countryside, concludes by placing him in a long line of English pastoralists stretching back through Constable, Shakespeare and Chaucer.
As the author of the definitive Elgar biography, Moore has an encyclopedic knowledge of the composer and his world, and he brings to bear years of thinking about this music. No matter how well you know Elgar's music, this book will let you hear it afresh, and you may be surprised at what you'll find.
on 5 February 2011
I was really looking forward to reading this book - and not only because it was the most reasonably priced biog available. I can't say I didn't enjoy it because I did, but I won't want to re-read it, which I think is the test of a really good book. To my mind, it falls between two stones - the 'story of the man' and an analysis of the music - and neither really gets anywhere in depth. A shame as I love Elgar's music more and more as the years go by. I guess I shall just have to invest more of my pension in a meatier book
on 9 July 2011
I start with a word of warning. If you are an average music lover who wants to read an introductory biography on Elgar, but who has not studied music, then I would not recommend this book. That is not to say that the book is not revealing about Elgar and his music; it is. The issue is that a reader who is not fairly knowledgeable about musical terms and musical theory is likely to struggle with the author's descriptions of how Elgar composed his music. For those who have not studied music I would suggest a more literary biography, with less musical examples. For those who have studied music I think the book has a lot to offer; the author works hard to convey how Elgar put his musical ideas down on paper, and musically what is going on when he does so. The best way I can describe the author's style is that he uses a mixture of prose and musical terminolgy in the manner of a painter applying layers of paint to a canvas to gradually create a portrait. An unusual but interesting style.