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Elgar rediscovered

​Senior archivist, Matthew Payne, describes a significant find for Elgar scholars. Discovered hidden in a plain brown paper wrapper amongst an additional deposit of records from the Worshipful Company of Musicians, the hitherto unknown autograph manuscript is one of a number of remarkable music manuscripts in the archive.

A major additional deposit of records from the Musicians’ Company has recently been catalogued (CLC/L/ME). In addition to the regular administrative records generated by livery companies – court minutes, financial records, menus and programmes of events, correspondence, as well as a fine 17th century bound copy of their 1604 charter – the collection features some remarkable music manuscripts. These were either collected by, or given to, the Company, or in some instances composed especially for it. Many of the pieces are by minor or relatively unknown composers. A large group was submitted pseudonymously for a competition to compose a Coronation March in 1902. It is possible in this instance to match up scores with the submission letters and thus identify the composers, as the Company did in 2000; no unrecognised masterpieces unfortunately.

However, amongst these works there are autograph scores of real significance. Herbert Howell’s ‘A Hymn for St Cecilia’ and Arthur Sullivan’s ’Lost Chord’ are certainly major pieces. But perhaps most noteworthy are the works by Sir Edward Elgar. These include the well-known ‘Dirge’ (or Elegy) which he composed especially for the Company to mark the death of Rev Robert Henry Hadden, Junior Warden of the Company, who died suddenly in 1909.  During cataloguing, John Norris, a renowned Elgar expert and General Manager of the Elgar Complete Edition, asked to come in to consult this manuscript. While locating it, another Elgar score was produced, and one which turned out to have a particular interest. As John Norris reported:

‘All of Elgar’s reputable biographers record that in 1908 he wrote a part-song published by Novello under the uninspiring title Marching Song. In 1914, Elgar rearranged it as a song for solo voice and chorus which Novello published under the new title Follow the Colours. Why the biographers all come to this misguided view is a mystery because the title, Follow the Colours, clearly appears on the 1908 publication; and the two arrangements are all but identical: the 1914 version omits two bars of introduction, one of the verses, and is set a semi-tone lower, but there are no differences in the setting. This version(s) appeared in the Elgar Complete Edition volume of solo songs with piano accompaniment we published last year.

‘However, it is known that the 1914 'première', and probably also the 1908 première, were performed with an orchestral accompaniment, and within the next 12 months we hope to publish the companion volume in the Complete Edition volume of solo songs with orchestral accompaniment. The question that has been puzzling us for some time is whether the orchestral arrangement to Follow the Colours is Elgar’s own, a pre-requisite for the inclusion of the song in the forthcoming volume. We have copies of the parts published by Novello and the arrangement certainly sounds like Elgar, but it could be the work of a good house arranger. Critically, Christopher Kent’s Guide to Elgar Research, the bible for most Elgarian researchers, does not list the existence of an autograph score of the orchestral arrangement, which added to our uncertainty over whether the published orchestral arrangement was by Elgar.

‘As you may by now have guessed, the plain brown wrapper you allowed me to see contains the hitherto unknown autograph MS of Elgar’s orchestral arrangement, removing all doubt about the arrangement’s provenance. The MS is in fact dated 1908 in Elgar’s hand so it seems likely that he completed the orchestral arrangement for performance at the 1908 première of the song, not its 1914 relaunch. The setting was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Musicians so their continued ownership of the MS is not all that surprising.’

This score and its provenance was known to the Company - it is recorded in R Crewdson, 'Apollo’s Swan and Lyre: Five hundred Years of the Musicians’ Company', Woodbridge 2000, p.224 – but it had rather disappeared from view, and it does not seem to have been picked up by Elgar scholars more generally. It is very gratifying that this has now been rectified.

The series of manuscript music scores has been catalogued as CLC/L/ME/F/021.  The records of the City of London livery companies, including those of the Musicians’ Company, are held at Guildhall Library.

Further information

You can find out more about records relating to London's social life at LMA on our collections pages.

17 May 2012
Last Modified:
08 August 2019