Elgar Asylum Music

In the dim and distant days of 1992, when the PC was yet to become the popular established, all-singing, all-dancing necessity that it now seems to be, I had an Atari equipped with Notator, a music software package which was brilliant. I much preferred it to Sibelius and would use it now if I could. I was a wiz on it – well ahead of my contemporary musicians – producing printed music at home.

At that time a small band called “the Little Orchestra of Worcester” existed; a few violins, a couple of violas, two cellos, one bass and the occasional invited wind player to allow us to do a bit of Mozart. It was a friendly group led by the maker of my cello, L.Karl Hepplewhite and conducted by lawyer, John Haden.

The Chairman, fellow cellist, Jim Bennett, was curator at Elgar’s Birthplace in Broadheath. Through him we were invited to perform at Powick Asylum, where Elgar conducted the staff band for a few years from 1877, for the conference of the Association of Psychiatrists. Jim asked me to use my wizardry to arrange a couple of Elgar’s original Polkas, Quadrilles etc for our orchestra to play. It all seemed very appropriate and was even reported on by John Warburton on BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester at the time!

Afterwards, Jim suggested that, as these works by the young Elgar only existed in the form of the part-books, I might like to put them together as a full score for the first time ever. So began a huge undertaking, working from his original hand-written parts mainly at his desk in the Birthplace or in Jim’s “Rose Cottage”, next door,
but occasionally taking the books home to work on, matching up discrepancies, producing full scores of L’Assomoir, Nelly, Maud, La Blonde, La Blumine, Die Junge Kokette etc etc.

Elgar himself was paid one shilling and sixpence for every arrangement of a popular song he did, and six shillings for each orignal composition. I was paid a nominal sum for my work, was told it would be published with due reference to my hard work and had to sign away any rights to my copyright in the edition in exchange. I would have done it for the love of Elgar anyway – it was a privilege and honour to be able to handle books written by the great man himself and sit at his desk to do it. Strange to relate that all the time I was working on this music, I was absolutely frozen – even in high summer and even in my own home!

A few weeks ago I had an email inviting me to play at a concert to mark the first performance of the new Complete Edition of Elgar’s Asylum Music. I’ve just looked it up and find that it was published in August 2008 –
The Elgar Society Edition

I hope the editor concerned, Andrew Lyle, was informed that my scores already existed. I hope he used them and maybe gave me some credit for all my hard work in his editorial. Or did he, like me, have to start from scratch with the part-books spread about him, with no knowledge that somebody else had beaten him to it by 17 years?

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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