Thursday, May 23, 2013

An Appreciation of Elgar and "Englishness"

From The Walsingham Society's blog comes this appreciation of two English artists by James Patrick:

Beneath their defense of beauty lay themes that gave their art its power. There was a reliance upon tradition in a way that presaged Eliot”s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” which is to say that in the work of each the past lived in the present, transformed by a new moment of creativity. “Both Elgar and Strauss (like Brahms and in contrast to Wagner) acknowledged the weight of history and mirrored some degree of awe for the traditions of composition…. Despite recent efforts to construe Elgar as a modernist innovator, he remained within the framework of ideas, conflicts, forms and vocabulary of the late nineteenth century.”10 [endnotes in the the blog post] Voysey’s houses, the house that loves the ground, with its great sheltering roof, looking always as though it should be thatched, its white cast walls, the reminiscence of Tudor half-timbering, recapitulated in a new, subtly modern key the past of English domestic architecture.

Elgar’s music from the first was understood as expressing something authentic about the modern English character, landscape, and self-image. “Because the gesture, rhetoric and sonority he fashioned have come to locate the unique power, intensity, confidence, and refinement of the English, Elgar’s music has retained its role as an embodiment of Englishness.”11 His critics sometimes deprecated his music as expressions of jingoism, the nonsensical neologism descriptive of the perfervid patriotism that beset the nation in the shadow of the Great War, but the imperial swagger was pride in England and its past more than pride in imperial success.12 Critics have noted that in Elgar’s music at its most assertive what one sometimes hears is a sub-theme reflecting something of Kipling’s “Recessional,” a muted acceptance of an all-too-transitory glory.13 Voysey’s architecture was, obviously, rooted in what he conceived to be the national architecture of Tudor England, informed by a love for Pugin and Ruskin and by what the Ruskinian tradition considered the Gothic principle that buildings grow from the inside.

Few great composers are tied to a national heritage as tightly as was Elgar, whose works sing of a great nation, possessed of a heroic past (Froissart, The Black Knight, 1892), and of a great empire at its zenith, when the domination of the oceans by Great Britain and its government of a quarter of the globe seemed as solid as Everest. When the Pomp and Circumstance March in D Major, “Land of Hope and Glory,” was premiered in London on 22 October 1901 the crowd roared for an encore, and to restore order the conductor, Henry Wood, played it again; it has ever after been a kind of second national anthem.14 The great marches themselves were another sign of Elgar’s ability to use the tradition: “I did not see why the ordinary quick march should not be treated on a large scale, in the way that the waltz, the slow march, and even the polka have been treated by the great composers.”15 Elgar provided the setting for the coronation of George V in 1911 and the British empire Exhibition of 1924, for which he produced the Empire March and the Pageant of England. In that year he was appointed Master of the King’s Musick and in 1931 was created a baronet, Sir Edward of Broadheath. There was pride in the imperial bloom, but the love affair was with everything English. Elgar preferred that the very names of instruments reflect their English past— hautboy rather than oboe—, and Voysey would write, “Instead of studying the five orders of architecture, we had far better study the five orders of Englishmen.”16

I am not familiar with Charles Voysey, but according to wikipedia, he was:

an English architect and furniture and textile designer. Voysey's early work was as a designer of wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings in a simple Arts and Crafts style, but he is renowned as the architect of a number of notable country houses. He was one of the first people to understand and appreciate the significance of industrial design. He has been considered one of the pioneers of Modern Architecture, a notion which he rejected. His English domestic architecture draws heavily on vernacular rather than academic tradition, influenced by the ideas of Herbert Tudor Buckland (1869–1951) and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852).

There is an organization with a web page devoted to his life and work: The C.F.A. Voysey Society.

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