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ELGAR: Falstaff / The Sanguine Fan

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Edward Elgar(1857-1934)

Falstaff, Op. 68;Elegy, Op. 58; The Sanguine Fan, Op. 81

The idea for what was to become Falstaff, Symphonic Study in Cminor, had been a possibility in Elgar's mind since 1901, but it was not until1913 that he set to work seriously, determined to provide a work in response toa commission for the coming Leeds Festival, and completing the composition on5th August. Dedicated to the conductor Landon Ronald, who directed the firstLondon performance, Falstaff allies the composer with the Richard Strauss ofthe symphonic poems and was seen by George Bernard Shaw as a distinct rival,outclassing Till Eulenspiegel and Don Quixote. The work held avery special place in the affections of the composer. As he explained in aletter to the critic Ernest Newman: "Falstaff... is the name but Shakespeare- the whole of human life - is the theme... over it all runs - even in the tavern- the undercurrent of our failings and sorrows". And towards the end ofthe period of composition Elgar told a reporter: "I have, I think, enjoyedwriting it more than any other music I have composed... I shall say 'good-bye' toit with regret, for the hours I have spent on it have brought me a great dealof happiness".

Shakespeare's greatest comic creation, Falstaff, makes his firstappearance in King Henry the Fourth, Part 1, as a partner of riot anddishonour with the king's tearaway son, Prince Henry, affectionately known asHal. A highway robbery is arranged by Falstaff and his companions, after whichhe himself is robbed by the Prince and Poins, in disguise. Once back at theBoar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap, they proceed to mock Falstaff for his cowardiceand outrageous boasting. In the midst of the revelry, the Sheriff and his mencome to arrest Falstaff for theft, but Prince Hal has hidden him behind acurtain, where he falls into a drunken sleep, and according to Elgar, dreams ofhis innocent childhood. Later, Falstaff is ordered to raise a company ofsoldiers for the civil war, and at the home of his old friend Justice Shallowin Gloucestershire he turns matters to a profit by selling a discharge to thosehe has first chosen, and recruiting in their place a band of unfit andincompetent scarecrows. As he relaxes in Shallow's orchard, news is brought ofthe death of King Henry IV and of the Prince's accession to the throne.

Falstaff hurries back to London, hoping for honours from the King. On greetinghim as he enters Westminster Abbey for the coronation, Falstaff finds himselfcruelly rejected by King Henry V, who is determined to put his disreputablepast behind him. Falstaff never recovers from the blow and becomes a shadow ofhis former portly self, though still preserving happy memories of their earlierfriendship.

Elgar was so eager for listeners to understand the way his musicreflected the different episodes portrayed in Falstaff that he wrote anextended analysis of the work, which was published before the firstperformance. In this, though not in the score, he divided the work into foursections of varying length and gave them titles.

[1] Falstaff and Prince Hal

With the scene set in Prince Hal's apartments, the work starts with theprincipal Falstaff theme, which will return throughout the work in variedtempi, knitting together the whole musical fabric. Other themes follow,representing Falstaff in witty and mercurial mood, before we hear Prince Hal'snoble, courtly theme, marked con anima (with spirit). Another Falstafftheme, on the cellos, represents him as persuasive and cajoling. All thismaterial returns and is developed in a way that is consistent with Elgar's"symphonic" subtitle.

[2] Eastcheap. The robbery at Gadshill.

The Boar's Head again. Revelry and sleep

The action moves to a more disreputable part of London, where Falstaff,the Prince and their companions are entertained by the "honestgentlewomen" of the district: the hostess, Doll Tearsheet and others.

Their theme is accompanied by an upwardly ripping, 'Tearsheet' figure. Falstaffholds court, and is represented by a new set of themes. This is capped by whatElgar describes as a "gargantuan, wide-compassed fortissimo", ademonstration of his hero's boastfulness and "colossal mendacity".

The music becomes calmer and more fragmented before we hear a quiet theme,described by Elgar as representing "cheerful, out-of-door, ambling,"its dotted rhythm recalling Falstaff's first resilient, bouncing theme. Thereare muffled calls through the wood at Gadshill, as muted strings and hornsreflect the furtive scurryings that precede the energetic double robbery. Aftera return to the Boar's Head Tavern and a scherzo-like development of theEastcheap themes, the tipsy Bardolph is depicted by a hicupping solo bassoon,and then we hear the deep sounds of Falstaff's snoring as he falls asleep. Thisleads to the first Interlude [3], which recalls Falstaff as a boy, whenhe was page to the Duke of Norfolk. The touching Dream Interlude suggests,Elgar says, "what might have been."

[4] Falstaff's March.

The return through Gloucestershire.

The new King and the hurried ride to London.

The third part opens with the themes suggesting Falstaff's wit, butthese are interrupted by a distant fanfare. This is soon heard closer at hand,and leads into a lopsided march for Falstaff's "scarecrow army".

After the excitement of the battle the scene approaches the fields andapple-trees of Gloucestershire with sweetly lyrical music, introduced by thestrings, to be followed by the 'ambling' theme. The second Interlude - inShallow's orchard [5], has what Elgar calls "an old Englishflavour" and features some "sadly merry pipe and tabor music",as well as some dreamy musings in the lower strings. Suddenly news is broughtof the death of the old King and the accession of Prince Hal to the throne,indicated by his theme of courtly grandeur, which throws Falstaff into a stateof elation at the prospect of his own future advancement.

[6] King Henry V's progress.

The repudiation of Falstaff and his death

There is a mood of tense excitement outside Westminster Abbey as thecrowds, including Falstaff, await the arrival of the new King. The music takesthe character of a purposeful march, representing the military aspect of thenew King, but in the midst of it Falstaff's 'cajoling' and sounds of generalrejoicing can be heard. The climax comes with the most magnificent of all thestatement's of Prince Hal's theme as he arrives for his coronation. Falstafftries to insinuate himself with his former royal friend but is repeatedlyrejected. His subsequent decline into benign senility is portrayed in variousmusical reminiscences of great tenderness, before a quiet brass chord signalshis peaceful death. Let Elgar describe the surprise ending: "In thedistance we hear the veiled sound of a military drum; the King's stern theme iscurtly thrown across the picture, the shrill drum roll again asserts itselfmomentarily, and with one pizzicato chord the work ends; the man ofstern reality has triumphed."

Elgar's Elegy, Opus 58, for string orchestra, a work of profoundsensibility, was written in 1909 and first performed at The Mansion House, inthe City of London, on 13th July of the same year. The music is intenselymoving and heart-felt, reflecting, it may be supposed, sorrow at the recentdeath of colleagues, notably of his friend and adviser August Johanne
Item number 8553879
Barcode 730099487924
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Elgar, Edward
Conductors Lloyd-Jones, David
Orchestras English Northern Philharmonia
Disc: 1
The Sanguine Fan, Op. 81
1 Falstaff and Prince Hal
2 Eastcheap. The Robbery at Gadshill. The Boar's Hea
3 Dream Interlude
4 Falstaff's March. The Return through Gloucestershi
5 Interlude - In Shallow's Orchard
6 King Henry V's Progress. The Repudiation of Falsta
7 Elegy, Op. 58
8 The Sanguine Fan, Op. 81
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