Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor is one of those (for me) rare things in classical music; a piece which I found instantly comprehensible. It is sad. Heartbreakingly sad, and angry, and touched with aching nostalgia. Composed in 1919, it is the composer’s last great master-work, a eulogy for the millions of war dead composed in the same Sussex home from which, during the War, Elgar had heard at night the artillery fire from across the Channel. It has also been speculated that it was a eulogy for one soldier in particular, the New Zealand-born son of his first love, Helen Weaver, who was killed on the Somme.
By 1919, Elgar’s music was falling out of fashion and this, combined with a disastrous debut (Elgar having been given insufficient time to rehearse the orchestra) meant that the Cello Concerto received little public attention until 1965, more than thirty years after the composer’s death, when 20-year-old cellist Jacqueline du Pré recorded it with the London Symphony Orchestra. It has gained in popularity since and numerous recordings are now available. This is the du Pré recording, sadly without video.
Have you heard the concerto before? What do you think?