Edward William Elgar
(b. Lower Broadheath, Worcester, 2 June 1857, d. Worcester, 23 February 1934)
Symphony in G major
from the Organ Sonata, op.28 arranged by Anthony Addison
The transcription for orchestra
Elgar’s Opus 28 was written for the organ; I have transcribed it for orchestra. Have I taken an inappropriate liberty? I think not, for Elgar himself did worse things with Bach. I took the step because I truly appreciate Elgar’s genius and wanted to bring his music to a larger audience. The Sonata is, in its own way, as fine a piece of work as its predecessor, the Serenade for Strings, and the work that followed it, the Enigma Variations. I wanted to make it available to a larger audience and to a greater number of musicians, particularly amateur groups of some quality. I conducted such a group in Columbia, Missouri, and the first version, for chamber orchestra, was performed by them. Through the good offices of my friend, Tristram Pye, the Siemens Orchestra in Erlangen, Music Director Lukas Meuli, decided to give it its first European performance, but asked that I revise it to include the heavy brass and percussion. This I gladly did, and it is this version herewith published.
In a way, music has a life of its own, regardless of the instrument that finally plays it. Like many composers, Elgar wrote at the piano and then transcribed it for other instruments. Opus 28 was written for Hugh Blair to be played on the great organ in Worcester Cathedral, but on first sight it seemed to me to cry out for orchestral treatment. It is, in any case, extremely difficult and, for reasons probably beyond his control, Blair’s first performance was less than adequate. A listener said later that Blair “had either not learned it or else had celebrated the event unwisely for he made a terrible mess of poor Elgar’s work.”
Orchestration can quite change the character of a piece, witness the orchestral versions of Pictures from an Exhibition and, indeed, the Bach-Elgar Prelude and Fugue in C minor. I did not set out to change anything, but tried to use the orchestral devices found in Elgar’s own two symphonies, tempered by my desire to make it available to good amateur players. I did, in fact make changes, because, when transcribing for orchestra, one is duty bound to produce an ‘orchestral’ work. Merely assigning instruments to the lines that can be played by ten fingers and two feet at an organ would, in fact, belittle the effect. The final measures of the first movement, for example, are most probably effective in a resonant church, but would sound very thin if assigned unadorned to the orchestra. My addition of held brass chords and a chromatic scale in the winds closes the movement with a truly orchestral flourish.
The Sonata has four movements, but the second ends with the instruction “attacca,” and the third begins with a brief transition before arriving at a magnificently expanding Andante espressivo reminiscent of ‘Nimrod’ in the Enigma Variations. I therefore think of them as one movement, which I have entitled “Intermezzo.” To avoid the use of hundreds of 32nd notes, I have changed the pulse indication from 4/8 to 4/4. It is unclear what Elgar meant when, in measure 22, he wrote “Quasi doppio movimento.” Whether the opening is notated as 4/8 or 4/4, this section can surely only go a little faster than the previous one, and certainly not twice as fast.
An orchestra has available a far greater range of pitches and nuances than the organ. Granted the organist has a Swell box and a number of ‘combinations’ and ‘couplings,’ but they are all tied to his limited supply of fingers and feet, whereas the instruments in the orchestra can go their seventy or eighty different ways to provide enormous tonal variety. For the orchestra, even tempi sometimes have to be modified, partly to compensate for the drier acoustics of the concert hall, and partly because their greater variety of timbres can better differentiate the contrapuntal details. The last movement of Opus 28 is a case in point. It is marked “Comodo” (comfortably), but the writing, when transferred to the orchestra, seems to demand much greater speed, which is why I have added “Furioso” to the opening instructions. A knowledge of his two symphonies also encourages me to believe that, were he orchestrating it himself, Elgar would have wanted more intensity and excitement to conclude this fine work.
I prefer that this transcription be known as “Symphony in G major, from the Organ Sonata, Op.28.” When I started working on it, I did not know that it had been orchestrated by Gordon Jacob. I have since learned that two recordings of that version have been made, neither of which I had heard before making my own. But their existence, at least, supports my efforts and suggests that the “liberty” I took was not entirely inappropriate.
Anthony Addison (1926 – 2017), Lyndhurst, Ohio, 2009
The Organ Sonata
Elgar wrote his Organ Sonata in G in response to a request from his friend Hugh Blair, the organist of Worcester Cathedral, who wanted a voluntary for the visit of a group of American church musicians to Worcester in 1895. Elgar spent about one week in late June and early July writing the work, and Blair visited almost every day. As was common with Elgar, part of the Andante espressivo had been written earlier, and exists in a sketchbook from 1887, where it is called Traümerei; the Allegretto too had been sketched as an Intermezzo in April 1895. Blair performed the Sonata on the cathedral organ (which was under reconstruction at the time) on 8th July. It was not a particularly good performance (Blair had very little time to prepare it – Elgar completed it on 3rd July!) but it did represent the largest piece of abstract music the composer had written to date. Novello & Co. refused to print it complete – they considered it too difficult – so Elgar offered it to Breitkopf & Härtel instead.
Phillip Brookes, Market Drayton, 2009
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