ELGAR (EDWARD) Autograph sketches for his Variations on an Original Theme, 'Enigma', Op.36
Lot 48
Sold for £ 19,120 (US$ 25,451) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph sketches for his Variations on an Original Theme, 'Enigma', Op.36, comprising the unique surviving sketch for the complete Variation XIII ('Romanza:***') - the only anonymous variation, thought to have been written in memory of his lost fiancée Helen Weaver - extended sketches for Variation X ('Dorabella'), the unique surviving sketch for Variation III ('R.B.T.') and a sketch for Variation IV ('W.M.B.'), the group of MSS given by Sir Edward Elgar to his close friend Edward Speyer, who has written in pencil at the head of the first page of Variation XIII "Edward Elgar: Sketches for Variations for Orchestra (Enigma) op.36", the collection comprising sketches for:
(i) Variation III, here headed "RBT" (for Richard Baxter Townshend), comprising bars 1-29, on a two stave system scored for piano, 1 page, part of a bifolium, first three-and-half bars in ink, the rest in pencil, cancelled by Elgar in blue crayon and marked "Var L" and "K", 4to
(ii) Variation IV, here headed "Var: W.M.B." (for William Meath Baker), comprising bars 1-10, in which the Enigma theme is restated, marked "Presto strepitoso" ('Allegro di molto' in the final version), in two-stave piano score, one page, part of a bifolium (facing Variation III), in ink throughout, cancelled by Elgar in blue crayon and marked "K", 4to
(iii) Variation X, inscribed on at the beginning of the variation "Var D" (for 'Dorabella', Dora Penny), comprising the minor-mode middle section (two sketches) and the coda (cues 451 to 465), in two-stave piano-score, together with a draft of a piano four-hand arrangement (breaking off after ten bars), five pages, one leaf pasted down by Elgar, obscuring a sixth page of notation, in ink and pencil, the two-hand piano arrangement deleted in ink (as if for cancellation rather than transfer), another section deleted in blue crayon and marked "K", 4to
(iv) Variation XIII, here marked "Var" and in green crayon "XXX" ('Romanza:***'), two pages, on the outer pages of the bifolium containing Variations 'W.M.B.' and 'RBT', in ink with extensive markings in pencil ("tim-sidedrumstick", "very large", etc), second page inscribed in blue crayon "XII/L", this deleted in green crayon and "13XXX" substituted, 4to, [between 21 October 1898 and 5 February 1899]


  • SKETCHES FOR 'THE ENIGMA VARIATIONS', the best known of all Elgar's works, indeed one of the most famous and frequently performed pieces of English music, and the work which not only established Elgar's name but, by bringing original English music once more to the forefront, helped secure the future of a national school of composition. Probably the most important of this group of sketches is the complete, and unique, draft for Variation XIII. In words of Michael Kennedy: "The most emotional portraits are Nimrod... and the 13th (***), which ostensibly records Lady Lygon's voyage in a liner to Australia (the clarinet quotes Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage). But a more poignant parting is remembered, too" (note to the Boult EMI 1970 recording, 1993). This other remembered parting was the emigration to New Zealand of Helen Weaver, Elgar's first fiancée, to whom he had been engaged for eighteen months in 1883-4. In the analysis of Jerrold Northrop Moore: "The descending steps of Mendelssohn's phrase linked hands with the B-inversion of the Enigma theme. Suddenly there opened an immense horizon of friendship and love and longing. The Mendelssohn phrase went into Edward's music in A flat major - a mere semitone from the music's G major yet aurally a world away. A recursion to the G major opening brought the Calm Sea motive in E flat, the tonality of 'Nimrod', only a moment before 'E.D.U.' [Elgar] himself was to appear. So this penultimate music took its composer too far from his innocent friendship and simple regret at Lady Mary Lygon's departure. He deleted her initials from Variation XIII (and later contemplated cutting the Mendelssohn phrase altogether)" (Creative Life, p.264).

    The most extended of our sketches are those for Variation X, 'Dorabella'. By a nice coincidence, there is on record a description by Dora Penny - the pretty, stammering original - which describes not only her variation, but those for 'R.B.T.' and 'W.M.B.', also found in these sketches. On 1 November 1898, she was invited home by the Elgars after a concert. She tells how Elgar sat at the piano and "played me a very odd tune - it was the theme of the Variations - and then went on to play sketches, and some cases completed numbers, of the Variations themselves... Then he turned over two pages and I saw No.III, R.B.T., the initials of a connexion of mine. This was amusing! Before he had played many bars I began to laugh, which rather annoyed me. You don't generally laugh when you hear a piece of music for the first time dedicated to someone you know, but I just couldn't help it, and when it was over we both roared with laughter! 'But you've made it so like him! How on earth have you done it?' 'Go on, turn over.' And the next piece was called No.IV, W.M.B., another connexion and a great friend; very energetic and downright. Why did it remind me of him so?... I think then he played Troyte... After that, 'Nimrod'... Then I turned over and had a shock. No.X, 'Dorabella'. Being overcome by many emotions I sat silent when it was over" (quoted by Jerrold Northrop Moore, Edward Elgar: A Creative Life, 1984, p.255). It is interesting to note that in our sketches the 'Dorabella' Variation, which was eventually to become number X - immediately after 'Nimrod' itself - has been marked with the cancelled numbers 'XI', 'IX' and 'VIII'. Our sketch also contains a theme which does not appear in the first edition of 1899.

    Our sketches were made some time between 21 October 1898 (the famous occasion when Elgar's wife heard him strumming the original theme) and 5 February 1899, when he began work on the orchestration (finished on 19 February): most of the material probably predating Dorabella's visit of 1 November 1898. The first performance took place at the Queen's Hall under Hans Richter on 17 June 1899. The surviving sketches are listed by Christopher Kent, Edward Elgar: A Guide to Research (1993): ours is the only sketch listed for Variation III; another sketch for Variation IV is BL Add MS 58003, ff.3v-4 & 24; another for Variation X is BL Add MS 58003, ff.7 & 28v-29; no other sketch is listed for our draft of the complete Variation XIII.
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