Elgar toyed with the idea of writing a piano concerto from the turn of the century onwards.
But, as with the Third Symphony and The Spanish Lady, on his death he left behind no more than
an assortment of fragmentary sketches.
In 1901, concert pianist Fanny Davies asked Elgar to write a work for her to
perform on stage. No doubt she hoped that he would write a piano concerto for her, but the work
he produced, the Concert Allegro, was in fact a much
shorter work for solo piano. Over the next five years, Elgar considered providing the piece with
an orchestral accompaniment but he never did and the score then became lost for many years.
In 1902, Elgar met Alice Stuart-Wortley, the daughter of painter Sir John
Millais and wife of Conservative Member of Parliament Charles Stuart-Wortley.
They formed a close and affectionate relationship that lasted until Elgar's death. They
corresponded frequently and at length, exchanging intimate letters in which he addressed her as
Windflower. Through these and their common love of music, she probably understood
him as his wife Alice never did. She is widely accepted as the soul enshrined in the Violin Concerto. But the
Violin Concerto was dedicated to Fritz Kreisler - Elgar had dedicated the 1909
part-song The Angelus rather formally to 'Mrs
Charles Stuart Wortley', but 'Windflower' never became the dedicatee of any of
Elgar's major words. Michael Kennedy
believes the omission would have been corrected if Elgar had completed a piano concerto, for
Windflower was herself a competent amateur pianist - Elgar claimed to enjoy her playing
above that of any other solo pianist - and it was she above anyone else who encouraged him to
write the work.
It appears that Elgar first committed sketches for a piano concerto to paper in 1909. His
relationship with Windflower had recently assumed a new level of intimacy, Elgar having
first addressed her as My Dear Carrie (the diminutive by which she was known to her
closest friends) in a letter dated March 1909. The first Windflower letter was to follow
a year later. In his letters, he wrote at length about the spell that her piano playing cast over him.
But at that time he had recently completed the Violin
Concerto and was beginning to put together the
Second Symphony. Work on the piano concerto was soon set aside.
He considered resuming work on the sketches shortly after completing the Partsongs of op 71-73, but he found the distractions of
London unconducive to the composition of substantial works. The completion of the Violin Sonata in 1918 resurrected his interest in writing
for the piano as, for less obvious reasons, did composition of the
Cello Concerto. In a letter to Windflower in 1919, he claimed to be
arranging part of the then unpublished Cello Concerto
for piano and, in a second letter written just over a week later, indicated that, having completed
the Cello Concerto, he now wished to finish the piano
concerto. And again in June 1925, he told Windflower in a letter that he had resumed
work on the concerto but, recognising that his interest might soon lapse, asked her not to mention
this to anyone.
Not that the sketches for the piano concerto were in any sense sacrosanct. In February 1917,
he told Windflower that he had considered using some of the sketches for the hastily
composed Sanguine Fan ballet music. And the
sketches which Elgar left behind for the uncompleted Third
Symphony contain material which he had originally planned to use in the piano
concerto. And in contrast to the Third Symphony,
Elgar issued no embargo on others attemting to complete the concerto after his death.
The sketches nevertheless remained more or less ignored for fifty years after Elgar's death,
probably because they are so brief and fragmentary that any attempted completion of the work
would require far more original composition from whoever took on the task than Elgar had left
behind in the sketches. In 1997, however, Robert Walker announced that he planned
to produce a performing version of the work. Commissioned by Gavin Henderson for the
Dartington International Summer School with funds provided by the David James Music Trust
and the Woo Foundation, Robert Walker's score was first performed by David Owen Norris
and the Dartington Festival Orchestra conducted by Graeme Jenkins on 17 August 1997 in
the Great Hall, Dartington. Later, it appeared at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival, in
Canda, and in the Netherlands, all the time being revised and polished
David Owen Norris has now recorded the realisation, with the BBC Concert Orchestra,
conductor David Lloyd-Jones, on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7148. The score is published
by Maecenas Music.
Follow the links in the box below to read more about the Piano Concerto.