Although the second symphony followed the first by only three
years, in the intervening period the world and Elgar had changed.
The ebullient, confident mood of the early years of the century
was dying, the tensions that culminated in the First World War
were beginning to emerge and, by the time of the symphony's first
performance, King Edward VII had also died.
While the symphony was well received by most standards, the
audience's response to the first performance was polite and restrained in
comparison to the uninhibited reception given to its predecessor,
leading Elgar to liken them to stuffed pigs. In some
respects, this symphony has never fully recovered from that start
- it is probably the less popular and less frequently performed
of the two symphonies despite being melodically more inventive
and varied than the first symphony.
This may be because it is the more complex work.
Rather than a single theme recurring in all four movements,
structural unity is achieved through extensive cross-references
between movements, most dramatically when the rather ghostly
theme from the first movement re-emerges as a frenzied outburst
in the middle of the rondo.
And there is a marked contrast in mood. In place of the lyrical
dreaminess of the first symphony's
adagio, the second contains a somewhat sombre funeral march.
(Many assumed this to be in memory of the recently deceased king,
but sketches of the movement exist from some years before. Elgar
probably composed the theme as a tribute to his friend Alfred
Rodewald, the Liverpool businessman who conducted the first
performance of the first two Pomp and
Circumstance marches in 1901 and who died two years later
at the age of 43.) And in contrast to the jaunty confidence of the
first symphony, the
second has an inner restlessness and mood of conflict which is
only resolved when, in the closing minutes, the "spirit of
delight" theme which opens the symphony returns to bestow a