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Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra, Op. 47

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Edward Elgar
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Emanuel Ax, piano Mar. 23 - 25, 2006
© Richard Freed
This work was completed a few weeks before its premiere, which took place in the Queen's Hall, London, on March 8, 1905. The work enters the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra in the present concerts.
The scoring is indicated in the work's title. Duration, 15 minutes.



Elgar's Serenade in E minor, Op. 20, composed in 1892, and the more substantial Introduction and Allegro, composed in 1905, must be given much of the credit for rekindling the productive interest in music for strings shown by so many English composers of the generations following his own, from Vaughan Williams (whose Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis was introduced in 1910) and Holst to Britten, Bliss, Warlock and Tippett. The Serenade is characterized mainly by charm--which is not to say it lacks substance; the Introduction and Allegro is an out-and-out masterwork, and, as is so often the case, one that took some time to establish itself.

The audience at the premiere in 1905 did not respond well, having perhaps expected something more in the expansive lyric nature of the Enigma Variations or the imperial swagger of the Pomp and Circumstance marches (the third of which was introduced in the same concert as the present work). What was offered was what might be called a richly original tribute to Handel, a composer Elgar deeply revered. The instrumental format surely recalls the concerto grosso of Handel's time, but, as Donald Francis Tovey observed, "the kind of concerto form which it embodies is in line with Beethoven and Brahms, and definitely out of line with Handel and Bach. . . . Elgar's form is his own."

Three themes are encountered in the Introduction: first, an abrasive upward leap followed by a flurry of descending triplets; then an ascending motif introduced by solo violin; and finally a haunting viola tune which, while not an actual folk song, represents Elgar's recollection of singing he had heard from afar on the Malvern Hills in Wales. These elements are worked over in a stunning succession of contrasting textures, with the "Welsh" tune asserting its prominence.

The Allegro is aptly described in Elgar's own words as "a devil of a fugue." It bristles with energy, working up to an apotheosis of the "Welsh" tune from the Introduction to form a coda that concludes the work with a satisfying sense of unity.