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.