Producer James Mallinson on Elgar’s Enigma Variations

By | May 14, 2013 at 11:07 am | No comments | LSO Live | Tags: , , , , ,

It is curious that Sir Edward Elgar, the composer whose music is the beating heart of Establishment England, should have considered himself something of an outsider both musically and socially. His musical influences were mainly German and Schumann was the composer he most admired. Earning a living was a struggle and success and financial security were limited.

It was the huge success of the ‘Enigma Variations’ and ‘Nimrod’ in particular that turned Elgar’s professional and personal life around.

The story is that after a hard day’s teaching Elgar was relaxing by improvising at the piano and the tune he was playing caught the attention of his wife. To please her he began to improvise variations on the tune, each of which was either a musical portrait of one of their friends or else in a musical style they might have used.

The Enigma of the ‘Variations’ is not the identity of the friends. It is well known who each of the fourteen variations is dedicated to. The Enigma lies in the hidden theme, which is central to the work but is never played. This Enigma has fascinated musicians and musicologists since the composition of the Variations at the turn of the 19th century. Learned tomes have been dedicated to solving the riddle. Perhaps the best solution is that Elgar, who had an impish sense of humour despite his rather morose outlook on life, was ‘having a laugh’.

The LSO has a long history with the ‘Introduction and Allegro’ as the newly formed orchestra commissioned the piece for an all Elgar concert in 1905. It was written as a celebration of the orchestra’s virtuosity.

Emotional intensity is at the heart of any great performance of the Enigma Variations and in this performance, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, the LSO wears its heart on its sleeve. This version of the recording was specially re-mastered from the high definition Direct Stream Digital originals for release in the Mastered for iTunes series. The emotional impact is visceral.

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