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Elgar's War Requiem

Cowgill, Rachel (2007) Elgar's War Requiem. In: Elgar and His World. The Bard Music Festival . Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, pp. 317-362. ISBN 9781400832101

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Commissioned, peer-reviewed contribution to the first American volume of Elgar essays, arising from the 2007 Bard Festival. (i) Originality: the centrality of Elgar’s Roman Catholicism in the conception and reception of The Dream of Gerontius is widely acknowledged, yet few Elgar scholars consider in detail the role his faith might have played in other works, particularly his non-sacred music. This article investigates The Spirit of England, a cantata composed during World War I, and its relationship to Elgar’s catholicism and sense of heroic nationalism: generally dismissed as a jingoistic occasional piece, Spirit of England is shown to be an exceptionally complex work, dealing with eschatological issues that had concerned Elgar at least since the late 1890s and which increased in urgency for him and his countrymen during and after the war. (ii) Significance: the article contributes to current debate on Elgar’s Catholicism, especially its meaning for him as he struggled to complete his oratorio The Last Judgement. Instances of self-referencing assist a hermeneutical reading of Spirit of England in which religion can be seen to have provided a crucial frame of reference. (iii) Rigour: this reading of Spirit of England is based on a detailed reconstruction of the work’s composition, performance history, and intertextuality, and draws on contemporary responses to the war from artists, poets, writers, theologians, and critics. Often-quoted documentary sources are interpreted afresh, and new sources introduced in ways that invite a new understanding of this work, its quasi-liturgical significance for those who experienced it in the 1910s and 20s, and the factors which may have shaped the composer's response to Binyon's poems. The article extends from research for the author's forthcoming monograph on the English reception of Mozart’s Requiem (Boydell & Brewer, 2009). Daniel Jaffé considers it 'thought-provoking' (BBC Music Magazine (November 2007), p.95.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
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Depositing User: Rachel Cowgill
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2014 15:06
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 11:41


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