ELGAR (EDWARD)Series of over eighty autograph letters signed, a few typed or on cards, to Edward and Antonia Speyer
Lot 43
ELGAR (EDWARD)Series of over eighty autograph letters signed, a few typed or on cards, to Edward and Antonia Speyer
Sold for £ 10,755 (US$ 14,430) inc. premium

Lot Details
Series of over eighty autograph letters signed, a few typed or on cards, to Edward and Antonia Speyer (principally Edward), together with a few letters by Alice Elgar, the series beginning shortly after their first meeting in the autumn of 1901, and continuing until Elgar's death in February 1934, the last letter being dictated from the nursing home of Marl Bank on 27 December 1933; the great bulk of the correspondence dating from the period 1901-1919, and before his wife's death, c.250 pages, folio, 4to and 8vo, with autograph envelopes, letters and envelopes stitched into files, Craig Lea, Plas Gwyn, Severn House, and elsewhere, 1901-1933

AN EXTENSIVE AND EXCEPTIONALLY IMPORTANT SERIES FROM ELGAR TO ONE OF HIS CLOSEST MUSICAL FRIENDS. Only six, out of the eighty or so letters, appear to have been published in full: see Jerrold Northrop Moore, Edward Elgar: Letters of a Lifetime, 1990 (who prints the letters dated 21 December 1902, 15 December 1909, 20 January 1912, 10 November 1912, 23 September 1918, and 31 December 1919; another, of 13 March 1916, is quoted in his Edward Elgar: A Creative Life, 1984, p.23). Among the published material, is one of the greatest letters Elgar ever wrote, prompted by the gift of Beethoven Quartets from the Speyers: "Thanks to you & Tonia a thousand times: the books are a delightful possession & I renew my youth in reading some of the old dear things I played when a boy - when the world of music was opening & one learnt fresh great works every week - Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Nothing in later life can be even a shadow of those 'learning' days:- nor, when one knows all the music & all the mechanism of composition, the old mysterious glamour is gone & the feeling of entering - shy, but welcomed - into the world of the immortals & wandering in those vast woods - (so it seemed to me) with their clear pasture spaces & sunlight (always there, though sometimes hidden), is a holy feeling & a sensation never come again, unless our passage into the next world shall be a greater & fuller experience of the same warm, loving & growing trust - this I doubt" (15 December 1909).

But the unpublished remainder has great riches, and the series deserves to be studied in its entirety. The tone is set early in their friendship, when Elgar gives Speyer some music (most probably the Enigma sketches), telling him: "I send you some first sketches which my wife religiously keeps - I do not know in the least if this is what you would like & I feel frightfully conceited in thinking you may like to have some of my scrawls. When I have learnt to write plainly & prettily I must send you a real M.S. - but I fear I am too dreadfully old..." (13 Nov 1901). That December, Elgar was in Germany for the first performance there of Gerontius. Already, the formality of "Dear Mr Speyer" has been abandoned: "My dear Friend: It was most kind of you to write about Gerontius: I wish you & Mrs Speyer could have been present, the performance was moving & Dr Ludwig Wüllner splendid, - absolutely overpowering. All the papers were very kind & for once, took an Englishman seriously and wrote most enthusiastically about the work... Buths conducted the whole thing con amore and made the success sure by his 'enlightened' direction and artistic enthusiasm... We are glad to hear that Rd Strauss proposes to perform the Overture & we thank you for helping that on. On Tuesday we return home to work & (I fear) to teach again as composition does not very well bring anything except esteem & one does get fearfully hungry sometimes!... may I say that on reviewing the past year, which has now only two days more left, we count amongst the happiest things that have happened to us, our introduction to your family & our very happy days at Ridgehurst..." (29 December 1901). The following summer, the second German performance of Gerontius took place, prompting the famous toast from Speyer's friend Richard Strauss to "Meister Elgar". Elgar sent Speyer a postcard: "Rd Strauss made a noble minded speech (Edelmüthig) - please say to him from me 'again many heartfelt thanks'..." (23 May 1902). On 1 June, Alice wrote from Eisenach: "it will be delightful to be at Ridgehurst again, & we shall also be so glad to have the pleasure of meeting Herr R. Strauss again...", to which Edward added in a postscript: "I have sent a letter, which I felt I must write, to Strauss; be so good as to make my feelings clear to him - He is a fine man...".


  • The series celebrates the whole gamut of Elgar's music, from a particularly poignant performance of Gerontius ("...I am writing a line for my wife to express her regret that the said Gerontius was to be rehearsed on Thursday - it is on Wednesday... I enclose a card - quite unnecessary I think - for admittance. My dear old mother passed away this morning after much suffering - it is a happy thing for her but makes us sad, very sad..."), to "a funeral march for the deceased Tortoise". Among the major works covered are: the First Symphony (a particularly fine letter written on the day before the first performance to Tonia admonishing her: "Do be serious: don't you know I've written a symphony & I must live up to it..." and signing himself by quoting the opening bars, marked 'Semplice'); the Introduction and Allegro ("...I want you to hear the new cheerful piece for strings which I hope you will like even in the midst of symphonic poems & other gigantic things..."); the late chamber works ("...I have been writing much: one day I will bring the sonata & a violinist to play it over to you & Tonia: my wig!!... I have also nearly finished a Quintet stgs & pF.!! which will horrify you..."); and The Apostles ("...At the risk of your slaying me, - people have such prejudices, - I must send you an example of my skill (or want of it) as a typewriter. This is the most fascinating toy you ever beheld, and useful, mind you, into the bargain... Alice has been very busy typing (that's rather a horrid verb) my libretto and has only distributed one '£' amongst all the twelve apostles! - she thinks this is irreverent, so I discretely stop..."). Fallow periods, too, find their expression: "I wanted to tell you of one or two things in the way of composition but they are not worth writing about, so low is my muse, but they might be good enough to just mention over a cigar - if the cigar were really good; but then your cigars always are & make up for a lot of bad music!..."

    Although the series tails off after Alice's death, and the ending of Elgar's primary phase as a composer (uncompleted Third Symphony apart), these late letters are some of the most poignant. A little over a month after her death, he sends Speyer "one sad little slip (among the Brussels papers of 1866) of some of my dear Alice's music when she had lessons with M. Kufferath Alas!", and a little later tells him: "Yes: it is indeed a sad time for some of us and especially - it seems - for those who did their duty in the war. I am fairly well but can do nothing but think over the past good days: here, my dearest one, had made the place & every shrub & almost every flower reminds me of the lost peace. Carice is wonderful but I am a sad & lonely man until the end". Most evocative of all, perhaps, is a letter sent on 30 September 1921, when "turning out a lot of old papers". This encloses a concert programme of 1877 - still present with the letter - with his youthful trial signatures as "Edwd Wm Elgar" ("...I was then 20... just starting a bank account").
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