ELGAR: THE MAN by Michael De-la-Noy


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De-la-Noy makes no claims to musical expertise, and his small biography offers only the briefest appreciations of Elgar's scores, with little of the life/work interrelation that most music-biography readers demand. Still, on its own crisp (even flip) yet compassionate terms, this stylish narrative offers a modestly convincing study of the unhappy, repressed, frustrated man behind the grand, public, Edward VII-like composer/hero. De-la-Noy stresses Elgar's humble beginnings, the death of his two small brothers (leading, perhaps, to a ""morbid obsession with death""), his relationship with a minor-musician father. (""It could have been embarrassing for Edward""--nervous, sensitive, ambitious--""to have realized early in life that musically as well as intellectually he was going to overtake his father."") The slow-building career is followed from the job of lunatic-asylum bandmaster to first successes as a composer: his emotional life thereafter would be marked by ""resentment,"" irrational depressions and money-complaints, probably an outcome of his early deprivations and disappointments. And, most persuasively, De-la-Noy views Elgar's private life as clinical material: late marriage to 40-ish spinster Alice, who bore one child but devoted herself to Elgar's career--and put up with his platonic infatuation with young Dora Penny, the ""Dorabella"" of the Enigma Variations. (In this menage a trois both women treated Elgar ""like a little boy."") In fact, suggests De-la-Noy, he ""tended to idolize women and to love men""--though only the most latent sort of homosexuality is implied. And finally Elgar was ""a desperately immature man""--petty, tactless, often rude, increasingly bitter and isolated when public interest in his music waned somewhat in the 1920s. Some of the conjectures here seem strained, the irreverence a bit labored. But, with well-sketched period atmospheres and shrewd use of all the now-available sources, De-la-Noy's de-glamorizing portrait will entertain some Elgar fans--and should contribute a sharp, useful viewpoint to a future, comprehensive biographer.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Allen Lane--dist. by Viking