The play Diarmuid and Grania, written by George Moore and W B
Yeats and first staged at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in 1901, is rivalled only by
Tristan and Isolde in the arena of great Celtic Heroic legends. But whereas
Wagner took Tristan and Isolde and turned it into a massive and hugely
successful opera, Moore wanted only a short piece of incidental music for his and Yeats' play.
It had nevertheless to be incidental music with an impact and stature to match that of the legend.
At the time Moore was looking for a musical collaborator, Elgar had just achieved his first
nationally acclaimed success with the Enigma
Variations whose centrepiece, Nimrod,
is an understatement of nobility, dignity and serenity. Perhaps it is these qualities that
caused Moore to turn to Elgar.
Moore is believed to have wanted only a horn call or a funeral march (the latter to accompany
Diarmuid's death scene) - accounts differ, and Moore himself may have been undecided. In the
event, Elgar wrote the horn call (which became the piece now normally referred to simply as
Incidental Music), a funeral march to rival that of Chopin (which Elgar himself
orchestrated in his dying years) and a song to words by Yeats, entitled There are Seven
that Pull the Thread, which Laban sings as she watches, spinning, over the
As incidental theatre music, Grania and Diarmid (the Anglicised title under which
Elgar chose to publish the work) is rivalled among Elgar's output only by his music for King Arthur. Moore and Yeats separately expressed
themselves exceptionally pleased with the music. Moore commented that 'Elgar must have seen
the primeval forest as he wrote', while Yeats described the music as 'wonderful in its heroic
melancholy'. Apt descriptions. The horn call evocatively summons up the mystery of the ancient
landscape while the funeral march combines an immense grandeur with a heartfelt, tragic sadness,
truly one of Elgar's greatest and most effective marches.