How many members are aware that Elgar lived in Fulham and that there is a London County Council ‘blue plaque’ on his former home?
Sir Edward Elgar, one of England’s greatest composers, was born at Broadheath near Worcester in 1857. His father was a piano-tuner who also ran a music shop and was organist at St. George’s Roman Catholic Church. Elgar succeeded him as organist between 1885-89.
Growing up in a musical family, Elgar won praise as a child for piano improvisations but had no formal musical training apart from violin lessons he received from a local teacher. Later he played in the orchestra at the festivals of the Three Choirs. He left school at 15 and for a while was apprenticed to a solicitor’s office but soon decided to devote his life to composing, and thereafter worked as a teacher and freelance musician.
A turning point came in 1886 when Caroline Roberts, the daughter of the late Major-General Sir Henry Gee Roberts, became one of his piano pupils in Malvern. She became his wife in 1889. They decided to set up home in London and took as their residence 51 Avonmore Road in Fulham, a backwater off the North End Road near Olympia, where their only child, Carice, was born. Here in 1890 he wrote his popular ‘Froissart’ Overture for the Worcester Festival. However, in 1891 the couple decided to leave London, where his works had not had much success. They lived in Malvern, then moved to Hereford in 1904.
His wife’s belief in his genius was a great spur to Elgar and he spent most of his time composing. By 1899 with the publication of the ‘Enigma Variations’, one of his most popular works, he was being recognised by the public as a major composer. The following year he produced what is considered his masterpiece ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, the setting of part of a poem by Cardinal Newman. Elgar drew inspiration from the culture and landscape of England, working in all the major forms of music except opera.
There now followed a period of great musical activity, his finest works were composed over a time span that lasted two decades. The most well known of the period include the Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901-07) the first being known as ‘Land of Hope and Glory’; the overture ‘Cockaigne’ (1901); Introduction and Allegro (1905); the Symphonic Study – ‘Falstaff’ (1913); the Violin Concerto (1910) the first performance of which was given by the great violinist Fritz Kreisler; the 1st and 2nd Symphonies (1908 and 1911). His other famous work, the Cello Concerto (1919), immortalised in the public mind by the performances given by the late Jacqueline du Pré, was written as a reflection on the terrible catastrophe of the First World War. Elgar said it described ‘a man’s attitude to life’. The death of Elgar’s wife the following year had such a profound effect on him that no further major work ever again flowed from his pen.
Elgar’s climb to public recognition was slow but once he was seen as one of England’s greatest composers the honours flowed in. A Knighthood in 1904; Order of Merit 1911; appointed Master of the King’s Musick 1924; KCVO 1928, Baronetcy 1931, GCVO 1933, as well as numerous honorary Doctorates and Degrees from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, London, Yale and many others. Edward Elgar died at Worcester on 23 February, 1934, aged 76, and was buried in his wife’s grave at St. Wulstan’s Church, Little Malvern.
This article first appeared in the Fulham Society newsletter no 77 in July 2007 and we are grateful for permission to use it
This is just one of the 450 Personalities of Fulham and Hammersmith that are briefly summarised in our publication of the same name by Keith Whitehouse.