Playwright and novelist J.B. Priestley (1894-1994) was a lifelong admirer of Elgar.
In fact, one of the few pieces of film footage we have of the composer was taken by Priestley at
a Malvern festival in the early 'thirties.In his book The Edwardians (1972),
Priestley explained the composer's appeal for him:
"Over and above his inventiveness and magnificent orchestration, and more important than
they are, is something that never fails even now to ravish my ear and catch my heart. It is the kind
of passage, forever recurring, when strings are quietened and the jagged thunder of his brass is
gone, and - it is all different, strangely beautiful as music and catching at the heart because the
man himself, no longer masterful, seems to be staring at us out of a sorrowing bewilderment.
These moments when the persona is dropped are to me the secret of Elgar's lasting
Priestley used Elgar's Cello Concerto in his play The
Linden Tree (1948). The play's main character is Robert Linden, an ageing
professor of history who is being pressured to retire. One of his daughters is a cellist, and in Act
II she practises the concerto offstage, prompting Linden to comment that it is
"a kind of sad farewell. An elderly man remembers his world before the war of 1914, some
of it years and years before perhaps - being a boy at Worcester - or Germany in the
nineties - long days on the Malvern Hills - smiling Edwardian afternoons - MacClaren
and Ranji batting at Lords, then Richter or Nikisch at the Queen's Hall - all gone,
gone, lost for ever - and so he distils his tenderness and regret, drop by drop, and seals
the sweet melancholy in a Concerto for cello. And he goes, too, where all the old green
sunny days and the twinkling nights went - gone, gone."
But Elgar's nostalgia, Linden observes, is not the whole story of the music: "But then what
happens? Why a little miracle - young Dinah Linden - who knows and cares nothing about Bavaria
in the nineties or the secure and golden Edwardian afternoon, here in Burmanley, this very
afternoon - unseals for us the precious distillation, uncovers the tenderness and
regret, which are ours as well as his, and our lives and Elgar's, Burmanley today and
the Malvern Hills in a lost sunlight, are all magically intertwined."