The tortured chords at the opening of Elgar’s Cello Concerto sound as if they have to be excavated from the cello face; it would be a similar situation if Shakespeare had started Hamlet at ‘To be or not to be.’ Most concertos take a little time to come to the main point but Elgar was having none of it. In 1918 at the close of the First World War and aged 61, he had gone through a period of his life where he would have been regarded as a respected composer. In fact, he had already been acknowledged as a national treasure for some time. Now, he was seriously wondering whether some critics were right to write him off as a spent force. Elgar came around from the anaesthetic after an operation to remove an infected tonsil with this tune firmly cemented in his head. He did not let it go to waste and it remains one of the most English of all pieces of English music.
Jonathan Bunney MMus (dist.) FRCO
Director of Music: St. Anthony’s School, Hampstead.