Monday, June 02, 2014

Music Monday ~ Sir Edward Elgar - Pomp & Graduation

Sir Edward Elgar was born this day,
2 June, in 1857, in Worcester (pronounced, Wusster) England, the city lies somewhere between Stratford-on-Avon and the Welsh border, in the county of Worcestershire famous for.....sauce.

In Britain, lyrics added to one of his compositions have caused it to become a secondary national anthem (Land of Hope and Glory), while in the USA the same composition is played routinely as students walk their graduation walk across a stage - a fact which shocked me to the core when I attended the graduation of one of husband's grandsons. See Tom Reeder's blog for detail on origins of that "theft".

Edward Elgar, son of a piano-tuner, became self-taught composer of numerous grand marches, a couple of symphonies, and some chamber music. He is, these days thought of in far more affectionate terms than he ever was in his own day. Many of the elite of the music world, back then, despised him and all his works. He probably didn't help himself by his attitudes. From what I've gleaned during internet searches, it appears he was something of an enigma - how appropriate that he should have composed the Enigma Variations! He was described as "rude, prickly, artistic, Bohemian, aspiring to nobility". (BBC Talk)

A long essay by Dr David C.F. Wright, "Elgar Unmasked" has him pegged as a rather nasty, somewhat perverted womaniser. I shall not quote from that piece due to a rather severe copyright notice at its end. I suspect there's too much vitriol within it, though, for it to be 100% reliable, even if there is a sliver truth in there.

Elgar was knighted before he was 50, awarded the OM (Order of Merit), became Master of the King's Music, a baronet and GCVO (Grand Cross of the [Royal] Victorian Order [knight]). And he pulled strings to try to get a peerage. Seems he was an adept social climber! However, he was also a "mercurial outsider" (appropriate description considering he was born with Sun in Gemini, ruled by Mercury!)
"A tall, thin man with his bully moustache, the countenance of an ascetic atop a footballer’s body—the son of a piano-tuner, completely self-taught, “from harmony to fugue,” an early biographer wrote, hurried and self-divided, always in and out of love with music, always tossed between exuberance and despair, and forever obsessed with ciphers, riddles, and word tricks, not to mention his passion for “public mysteryfication,” as music critic and his longtime friend Ernest Newman put it.
He was keen on, and fairly expert in the use of, ciphers. He once wrote a note in cipher to a lady friend nicknamed by him Dorabella, "consisting of 87 glyphs unevenly spread over three lines. It contained 24 different symbols that featured one, two, or three cusps or curves. The glyphs were tilted in what appeared to be eight various angles. In a glance it gave the sense of seagulls, or sheep, or bits of stubble. Dora looked at it, couldn’t figure it out, put it in a drawer, and didn’t draw it out again for 40 years."
See here
..........Julian Lloyd Webber, an acclaimed cellist, and younger brother of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber:
has come to see the cipher, and all the other aspects of Elgar’s affinity for mystification, as the heart of the brilliant composer. “I think he set out to intrigue and puzzle people, knowing that they would talk about him—at the time the works were written and also long afterward,” “There was also a mischievous side to him. He liked playing tricks on people, and one of those tricks might have been to send that poor girl that thing that was completely undecipherable and he knew it.”
(See here and here.)
The end of the Great War (in 1918) brought a backlash. Elgar was regarded in influential quarters as a sentimental jingo mindlessly celebrating empire and war, a view promulgated in an influential (and notorious) article by E. J. Dent. Critics characterized his music as overblown "loose, baggy monsters," incoherent as a three-volume Victorian novel. This colored Elgar's reception for decades. To his friends he came over as a jovial companion, fond of making puns and playing practical jokes., who might have been puzzled by the Elgar who said he always knew God was against art, lost his religious faith and said of the First World War: "The men and women can go to hell - but my horses! Let God kill his human beings but - how can he? Oh, my horses."
Knowledge of the complexity of Elgar's personality, with its tendency towards manic depression, led to an appreciation, only rarely perceived earlier, of the anguish and loneliness to be heard in much of the music, especially in the symphonies, the violin and the cello concertos and The Music Makers.
"Stately sorrow" and "heroic melancholy" are phrases rightly applied to his music and they can be heard in most of it
From the UK's Telegraph.

Does Elgar's natal chart match up to what I've discovered above? I haven't used the time of birth that's available at Astrodatabank because it has been rated DD (very unreliable). The 12 noon chart below is sufficient for a quick look.

 Hat-tip to blog HERE

Hmm. Elgar's chart reminds me of Sir Stanley Spencer's - a 2-sided personality indicated by clusters of planets in adjoining signs making up the bulk of the chart. In Elgar's case Gemini and Taurus vie for attention, with Saturn getting in on the act from Cancer in semi-sextile (30*)to his Sun/Mercury/Mars stellium. Moon out on a limb somewhere in Libra is the main outlier, Neptune in Pisces, oddly doesn't have a lot to do, unless it happened to have been close to the ascending degree or mid-heaven, which can't be known without a time of birth. I'd have expected Neptune to be prominent, especially in view of Elgar's love of ciphers and mystification.

Gemini's eloquence and social fluency and a hint of Trickster too, along with artistic gifts from Taurus and Libra, on the surface would seem like an abundance of goodies - yet Elgar had trouble, it seems, in coping comfortably with this blend. Repeating from one of the quotes above:
....hurried and self-divided, always in and out of love with music, always tossed between exuberance and despair, and forever obsessed with ciphers, riddles, and word tricks, not to mention his passion for “public mysteryfication...
Gemini = Mutable Air, Taurus = Fixed Earth. Narrowing it makes the conflict more understandable, and with Saturn chiming in from Cardinal Water sign Cancer, the mix became too much to handle, at least some of the time, resulting in what outsiders saw as described in that quote.

Without a reliable time of birth to assist, further insight evades me.

Here is another of Elgar's well-known pieces, it's the Ninth Variation of the Enigma Variations and is titled "Nimrod" after the biblical reference to Noah's great-grandson of the same name who was a gifted hunter. It pays tribute to Elgar's great friend Augustus J Jaeger (whose surname in German translates to 'Hunter') who managed to keep Sir Edward's hopes up while he was still trying to make his mark on the world of music.
(More detail HERE)

I've chosen a video with more interesting "cosmic" visuals than watching members of the orchestra. The piece is played here by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. I find it "goose-bumpy"!


mike said...

I would say his ego was conflated with a quickened mind and physical action with his Sun-Mercury-Mars conjunction and Mercury in retrograde...intellectual, high-strung, aggressive in approach. This may have been off-putting toward his acquaintances and critics that were not personal friends. Jupiter conjunct Pluto could exacerbate a need for the traditional and conservative, particularly in materialistic Taurus, which may explain his affection for marches and the more staid types of music, and his fondness for mystification. His Sun and Mars are disposited by Mercury in Gemini...all other planets are disposited by Venus in Taurus. His ego expression and action were under the control of his mental acumen...all else, including his emotional response, was under the guise of sensual, materialistic Venus in loyal, determined Taurus. This may have contributed to the perception of a devious, split personality. I would imagine that he was more misunderstood rather than creepy...LOL.

His Moon may or may not play a large role in aspects, as it could be anywhere from 9* to 21* Libra.

He made a mark on the world, whether he was liked or not. The Victorian era was a weird several decades that I wouldn't have felt too comfortable enduring...everything was scrutinized with a moral determinant in mind and social consistency was very desirable. Misfits need not apply.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the extra astrological pointers, all good ones. Yes, he could have been misunderstood by some people. Those were very different times. Today in England, he'd probably have been up before a tribunal for sexual harassment if some of the gossip were true...but then so would half the Victorian male population. Thank goodness for time's changes, and here's to a few more to come!

I have to be in the right mood for his music, even then I only like the better-known bits - but when he was good he was very, very good.

mike (again) said...

Thought about this after I posted...he has Mercury and Mars combust. The typical interpretation is that the planet is absorbed by the Sun and not too operative. Elgar's Sun is in Gemini ruled by Mercury, so this is probably one of the better placements for the Sun conjunct Mercury, other than Virgo.


"Said of a planet when in extreme closeness to the Sun, the limits variously placed at from 3° to 8°30'. The characteristic effect to which the term applies is probably confined within an arc of 3° and is more pronounced when the planet rises after the Sun. Older authorities, including Milton, have described it as weakening, except in the case of Mars which was said to be intensified. The probabilities are that the effect of the combust condition is to combine the planet's influence more closely with that of the Sun, until it is no longer a physical emotion capable of independent control, but an integral part of that consciousness of Destiny that the Sun imparts. Thus Mercury combust imparts to the mind a capacity for concentration upon what it deems its own destiny, but robs it of its receptivity to distracting or diverting influences. Hence it is no bar to the achievement of its own objectives insofar as the ability to achieve them is within its own powers, but it robs the native of the cooperation of those whom he alienates by his particular species of obtuse deafness to any or all argument that runs counter to his own concepts. Edison and Kant both illustrate this interpretation. Venus combust may take away the strength to achieve, but when in a particularly close conjunction with the Sun it produces the condition sometimes termed nymphomania - described by Bolitho concerning Lola Montez. Mars combust is always the man who fights for what he wants; and so with each planet according to its intrinsic nature."

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Hmmm - interesting!

This especially would seem to fit what's known about him.

...robs the native of the cooperation of those whom he alienates by his particular species of obtuse deafness to any or all argument that runs counter to his own concepts.