Elgar at the piano

Unfinished piano trio, 1882

Unfinished piano trio, 1920
March for the Grafton Family

Three Movements for Piano Trio
16 mins 00 secs
Completed by Paul Adrian Rooke

1. Lento assai – Allegro moderato (1920) 7 mins 00 secs
2. Menuetto and Trio (1882) 4 mins 45 secs
3. March for the Grafton Family (1924) 4 mins 15 secs

The Elgar Complete Edition contained three separate movements for Piano Trio that were left incomplete by Elgar. As part of the celebrations in 2007 for the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, Paul Adrian Rooke took on the task of turning them into performable works, and they were premiered in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire on 6 June, four days after Elgar’s birthday. They have since been recorded by the Fibonacci Sequence for Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7220), and the liner notes give more detail of the work undertaken by Paul Adrian Rooke.

Unfinished piano trio, 1882

Elgar first met Dr Charles Buck at a concert given to entertain the members of a convention of the British Medical Association in Worcester in 1882. This proved to be the start of what was to become a life-long friendship, and an invitation for Elgar to stay with Buck at his home in Giggleswick, Yorkshire soon followed. Buck was a competent amateur cellist and his mother played the piano. So that they could make their own musical entertainment during his visit, Elgar took sketches for a trio section for piano he had penned the previous year and expanded it, adding a minuet section to form an essentially complete movement for piano trio. On his return from Giggleswick, Elgar recast the completed trio section once more for piano, calling it Douce pensée (Gentle Thought).

The years immediately preceding the First World War were pioneering days for gramophone recordings, a medium in which Elgar was a great exponent, conducting recordings of many of his works for The Gramophone Company, later to become HMV and then EMI. In 1913 Elgar was invited by W.W. Elkin, a publisher of light music, to produce two further orchestral pieces as companions for Salut d'amour. In response, together with Carissima, Elgar wrote the intense, brooding Sospiri which Elkin considered an unsuitable companion. Elgar therefore turned to his sketchbooks and quickly produced an orchestral arrangement of Douce pensée which he renamed Rosemary (with the subtitle `That's for Remembrance'), the name by which the trio tune is now most familiar.

Paul Adrian Rooke returned to the original Giggleswick sketches to complete a performing version for piano trio, close to what Elgar and the Bucks must have played in 1882.

Unfinished piano trio, 1920

Elgar left this piano trio in more fragmentary form: it is to be found in a British Library manuscript but its history, and even its date of composition, remain uncertain. One fragment dated `21st September 1920' appears to have no connection with the remainder and it may be that all other material is contemporary with the one other dated sketch: 10 February 1886. However, Elgar's handwriting developed distinctively during his life and annotations in his mature handwriting suggest that he revisited the sketches in later life. 1920 was a significant year in Elgar's life in that Alice, his devoted wife and constant encouragement, died. One can speculate that, coming shortly after the marked success of his three major chamber works and the 'Cello Concerto, Elgar may have been contemplating further chamber works and, coming across these sketches, toyed with the idea of turning them into a complete three-movement piano trio, but his grief following Alice's death prevented him from doing so.

After a 14-bar Lento introduction, the remainder of the movement is an Allegro moderato. It was clearly meant to be a sonata form movement, but Paul Adrian Rooke chose to conclude at the end of the exposition and repeat it to make an acceptable whole.

March for the Grafton Family

Following his wife Alice's death in 1920, Elgar composed little for many years. But when, in 1924, it was decided to hold a grand British Empire Exhibition at the recently-completed Wembley Stadium, it was natural that the organisers should commission Elgar to compose music for the opening ceremony. Elgar wrote Pageant of Empire, a cycle of eight songs to words by Alfred Noyes celebrating the world-wide expanse of the Empire, and the self-standing Empire March. The March for the Grafton Family is a piano trio version of the Empire March.

It would be natural to assume that Elgar composed the trio arrangement as a first step towards the orchestral score, and Elgar biographer Michael Kennedy records the March for the Grafton Family as a sketch for the Empire March. Yet the trio arrangement is dated 1924, strongly indicating that the Empire March, scheduled for performance at the Empire Exhibition's opening ceremony on 23 April 1924 (St George's Day) and largely composed in January of that year, must have come first. (A further time complication was revealed by the Proms première in 2006 of Anthony Payne's completion of Elgar's sixth Pomp and Circumstance March, a work for which Elgar may have first jotted down sketches as early as 1909 and whose trio tune is also that of the Empire March.)

So why, having completed the Empire March, did Elgar make an unpublished piano trio arrangement of it? The Grafton family concerned are Elgar's `favourite' sister Susannah Mary (known to the family as Pollie), her husband Will and their three daughters and two sons. While Elgar was not the only musically talented member of his family (his younger brother Joe had already gained the sobriquet `the Beethoven of the family' by the time of his early death at the age of seven), the Grafton siblings are not on record as having a particular musical talent. However, May, the eldest sister, performed secretarial duties for many years and, after Alice's death, the three sisters took turns to act as housekeeper for Elgar. It may be that Elgar completed the trio arrangement as a token of gratitude for their efforts on his behalf.

Note by John Norris, Paul Adrian Rooke and Steven Halls

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