Elgar Complete Edition

A Brief History

The publication of a complete edition of his works is arguably the greatest accolade a composer can hope for and the announcement by Novello in 1981 that they were to embark on the publication of a comprehensive uniform edition of all of Elgar's published music was met with universal acclaim by Elgarians. The first volumes, Symphony No.1 and the The Dream of Gerontius, appeared in 1981-82 and over the next ten years, 12 further volumes were published. From the start, Novello revealed their plans for the complete 41 (since increased to 44) volume set, grouped by type of work, allowing them over ensuing years to publish volumes of the most popular works while retaining the structural integrity of the complete edition. Regrettably, the publication of a series such as this is not a commercially attractive venture, and in 1993 Novello withdrew from the project.

     There were few further developments over the ensuing five years other than a growing belief that the edition could not be allowed to remain incomplete. However, public meetings in October 1999 and May 2000 led to a commitment at the Elgar Society's Annual General Meeting on 4 June 2000 that the Society would rise to the challenge of completing the set as the Elgar Society Edition. This was followed by the establishment of a trust, the appointment of a board of directors and the setting up of an editorial board to resume the task of editing future volumes.

     The Elgar Society Edition's explicit aim was simply to complete the Edition begun and abandoned by Novello, emulating the earlier published volumes in all essential respects down to the red imitation leather binding with gold blocking. Under the original concept the Elgar Society Edition board's primary role would be to raise funding for the Edition, delegating the task of preparing works for publication to Novello and other commercial music publishers. But it was perhaps naïve of the board to expect commercial publishers to embrace the board's charitable aspirations. Despite the expressed intention of publishing two new volumes a year, progress was initially slow. Following publication of Vol.25 (a volume held ready for publication by Novello since 1993) on relaunch of the Edition in October 2001, only one further volume appeared in the ensuing five years. The failure to produce new volumes was matched by a lack of success in expanding sales and in raising new sponsorship.

     The solution was to bring all aspects of the production and distribution process in house, a change which was eventually completed in early 2007. The benefits of the new arrangement were immediately apparent, with two new volumes (Vol.37 - Music for Violin and Vol.4 - King Olaf) appearing in 2007; further volumes have since been published at regular intervals, with the half-way point of 22 volumes being reached with the publication of Vol.24 : Music for String Orchestra in 2011. Sales also increased by 15% during 2007 and new fundraising methods were successfully trialled.

     Not that all problems have been overcome: most importantly, we must find a way of sustaining the availability of volumes originally published and still owned by Novello and now increasingly falling out of print. But the future also holds exciting challenges, not least the development of an electronic, interactive edition which maintains all the values of the hard copy edition (well, perhaps not the imitation leather binding) while taking full advantage of modern technology to interlink and expand on the current content, making each volume a more valuable and easy-to-use research tool for the student and an exciting road to discovery of Elgar's music for the amateur enthusiast.

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