Elgar had a deep love of animals, and especially of dogs, which I suspect will warrant
a separate article one of these days. But here I will confine myself to the multi-talented
C & May brought up lovely white
“Peter rabbit” … who was very naughty … played about
with Peter all the aftn. Everybody!
Alice Elgar diary,
15 April 1905
Atkins bicycled to Hereford … After lunch Elgar persuaded him to help mend and fill a
tub, repair a gatepost, and, with May Grafton’s help, put wire netting over the back gate
to keep Peter the rabbit in.
My dearest chuck:
The animals are all well & not likely to remain so I fear, as everyone who goes by their
house gives them something: I find the following extras were offered & devoured -
May: 4 Chicory leaves each
The doves do not lend themselves to stuffing so readily.
Mother: 2 large Carrots
Father: 2 pea-pods (full)
Letter to Carice, 3 August 1905
The parrot here is a most amusing beast & when everything is quiet starts talking,
sotto voce, on his own account; I find that the equivalent to 'Polly' is 'Loretto': every
Italian parrot will answer to that … There is another abandoned beast up the street who
talks both languages & nothing decent in either: a bad bird my child, & no fit company for
Peter. I hope Peter is well: I often think of him & wonder if he has any dried clover for
a change: do get him some if he wants it: I know all the pen straw must be gone by now.
Letter to Carice, 26 January 1907 (from Capri)
From this point Peter took on a Italian alter ego, and when Elgar’s Choral Song
"Owls" was completed at the end of the year, it was
dedicated “To my friend Pietro d’Alba”. Thus inspired, Peter took to composition on
his own account, making a telling contribution to the second Wand of Youth Suite.
My dear Peter:
Your idea - the vigorous entry of the drums - was splendid
Letter to Peter Rabbit, 26 January 1907
There was now no holding Peter, and in December 1909 Elgar wrote “The Torch”, a
setting of a poem by his small white friend.
I send a specimen of my dear friend Pietro d'Alba in his most, or almost most
pessimistic mood. To read it one wd. think the carrot crop had failed or some other
catastrophe acutely affecting the rabbit world was toward.
Letter to Frances Colvin, 2 February 1910
Sadly these words were all too prophetic, for on 3rd May 1910, Peter died.
You are always so very lenient to me in my foolishness so I write to tell you how
very sad we are to-day: my dear old friend Peter left this life this morning quite suddenly
& painlessly: Why should I tell you this! Because I want to write to somebody (- ?
everybody) and say how really grieved I am - & then only two people in the world would
understand & you are one. So you will not think me a nuisance. It is terrible to think
how many human beings could be spared out of our little life's circle so much easier than
my confidant & adviser Pietro d'Alba.
Letter to Frances Colvin, 3 May 1910