Elgar at the piano
Geoff Hodgkins review of Première

Edward Elgar:
The sketches for Symphony No 3 elaborated by Anthony Payne

First public performance: 15 February, 1998; Royal Festival Hall, London
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis

The BBC have obviously made the most of this occasion, as the original commission was theirs, and it was certainly apt that the BBC Symphony Orchestra has performed and recorded it. In the February edition of the BBC Music Magazine, the producer Colin Matthews made the case for the venture and Anthony Payne described his involvement with the sketches and how they were brought to fruition. Matthews points out that "although it was obviously not his intention, Reed's publication of the sketches made reconstruction by someone inevitable, since it meant that the work would eventually come into the public domain", and thus commends as "realistic" the decision of the Elgar family to sanction the new version. "But", he continues, "the critical point is whether the work had reached a stage at which its reconstruction is more than mere guesswork, and, equally important, whether the quality of the surviving material makes it worthwhile...What is lacking is not so much development (much of which is implicit) as the overall pulling together of the material - a consequence of Elgar's usual practice of only finalising the work when putting it into full score. He had begun to do this not long before his last illness struck, so that, in his mind, the symphony was probably more or less complete...(The music's) remarkable quality remains intact even though someone has had to stand in for the composer in bringing the work to its final form. Although there cannot be any pretence that this is the symphony as Elgar would have completed it, what we are given is the unmissable opportunity to hear the final thoughts of a great composer...For better or worse, Elgar's sketches have been preserved. As a result of his long involvement with them, with a composer's unique insight, and with a deep love and understanding of Elgar's music, Anthony Payne has rescued them from silence, and for that the only proper response is one of immense gratitude".

Anthony Payne writes that when he first saw the sketches, "...I immediately heard orchestral sounds in my head...They showed the composer inspired, giving the lie to received opinion that he had become a spent force after his wife's death". In 1993 he was asked by a BBC producer to "put them into some sort of shape for workshop performance". Feeling inspired and exhilarated, he completed the Scherzo from the sketches, and wrote out a complete exposition of the Adagio. This movement, Payne noted, was completed on 24 February 1994, the day after the sixtieth anniversary of Elgar's death. The Elgar family now intervened, and forbade the project to continue, but had no objection to Payne making a radio broadcast of the sketches in their original form. This took place in March 1995, and that seemed to be that. However, shortly after, Payne discovered that some snippets he had formerly discounted were the key to completing the first movement, which he did. "I felt for the first time that I. could perhaps complete the whole symphony. It seemed as if I was being impelled by forces outside myself". Now the family, realising that copyright on the sketches would expire in 2005, decided to commission from Payne a complete version. "I began to write out in full score all that I had so far done. In the process, I became aware of its overall sweep, different in its sheer breadth of emotion from any of his other symphonic works. There was the raw vigour and magic lyricism of the opening movement, a lighter manner in the second which went far beyond his established symphony practice, and the searing intensity of the Adagio, tragic in its import, while the finale revealed a world of chivalric action and drama".

There was a real sense of occasion. The Royal Festival Hall was packed, and nearly 300 Society members were present, some having come from Scotland, America and even Australia. I saw at least four Vice-Presidents. The BBC Orchestra and Andrew Davis were also plainly aware that this was no ordinary concert; the performance had an edge and an energy rather lacking at the first (private) performance I had attended in October, when the work didn't really come off. Possibly they were rather jaded on that occasion, having just finished recording it. Or perhaps it had had time to grow on me. The reception at the end was ecstatic; Anthony Payne was called forward, and recalled several times. Initial press reaction was similarly enthusiastic; and it's good to know that it will be performed elsewhere soon - in Scotland, and in the United States, at Philadelphia. What its long-term place will be, only time will tell; I can only say that I was glad to have been there, glad to have heard it, and grateful to Mr Payne for giving me the

Paul Rooke had erected his display stand (giving details of the Society) on a prime site near the ground floor bar, and there seemed to be considerable interest. The enjoyment of the evening was enhanced by meeting old friends, and everyone to whom I spoke thought highly of the end result. Whatever one's views of the rights and wrongs of the project, we must hope that Elgar's name and reputation will benefit from its completion; the initial prospect seems promising. As members will know, the family are anxious that the work should be referred to in an appropriate way with an approved title. This should be 'Edward Elgar - the Sketches for Symphony no 3 elaborated by Anthony Payne'. Given that this is too long for a working title, an acceptable shorthand is 'Elgar/Payne Symphony no 3', or even 'Elgar/Payne 3'. The co-operation of Society members is earnestly sought in ensuring that the correct title is used.

Continue to :

The Reconstruction - A Justification by Colin Matthews :
English Deutsch Français
An Introduction by Anthony Payne : English Deutsch Français
A musical tour of the symphony A Guide to Forthcoming Performances
Michael Kennedy reviews the CD
NMC - a mission to be heard EP3 - Now on Naxos
How to order your copy of the CDs and score

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