“The better the poem,” he said, “the better the song. What I do think is that the best words for musical setting are those which convey simply an idea, nothing more. As to the length, to my way of thinking they should never be longer than two or three verses. In looking for words for song-settings I try to follow a broad plan of reading, books of poems, magazines, and general sources. The words for ‘Light in Darkness’ I found in one of the religious journals. Comparatively unknown poets have written some very beautiful things for musical setting, as, for instance, Marston.
“The words of my seventy or eighty songs, though, are nearly all by standard poets, Rossetti, Swinburne, and the rest. Of those by the old English writers I have used only a few; they do not go well with modern music, and always seem to yearn for an old setting, which I have endeavored to give to those I have chosen. For the reason that I think a song should not be longer than two or three verses, I have taken the liberty of cutting poems. Of course one must be most careful in doing this. In Adelaide Proctor’s poem, which I used for my song ‘Because,’ there are twelve or fourteen verses. I used only two of them, the first and last. These sustained the idea, unity, and completeness.
“As to the words for cantata setting, they appear all to have been exhausted. Very few can write them, for there is lack of musical inspiration. The writer of a book for either cantata or opera must have intuition of what is required in music; many have not got that at all.
“In the repetition of subjects for oratorio there is one great exception. No matter how often the story of the Saviour has been written, it will always be acceptable to the world at large if it is well done. It is difficult to follow Handel’s ‘Messiah’; but if someone would set it again in modern oratorio as we know it, and ably fulfill his task, its acceptance would be assured.
“It is always the misfortune of a great personality to be copied. The more mannerisms a composer has in his style, the more likely he is to find imitators. Beethoven had no imitators, he was followed, not copied to the letter; but he had no mannerisms. Wagner continued the development of the orchestra which Beethoven, Weber, Meyerbeer, and Berlioz began. Yet anyone who employs full orchestra is called Wagnerian—by idiots.
“The real musician has a very impressionable nature, he is influenced by everything outward. In my experience I have been thrown with many artists of the opera. There is an immense amount of the child in him; he is very easily amused. This trait remains with him throughout his life, and in a way is his salvation and source of perpetual youth.”
Any chronicle from London, no matter how brief, would be incomplete without some mention of Dr. Edwin Elgar. Both in England and Germany the degree of attention that he is commanding is very great. In the latter country they claim a wider recognition of his abilities than is granted even in his native land, and the reception of his orchestral works has been marked by an enthusiasm never given there before in the instance of an English composer. Dr. Elgar occupies a unique place for any man to hold in any profession. The first among his colleagues has frankly said at one time or another: “He is our greatest.”
“You seem,” I said to him on our meeting, “to be the son so long hoped for and at last arrived.”
His answer was a quiet smile with a touch of gratification in it. Of words he is chary except in the discussion of his art or general and abstract subjects. That which he does say of himself becomes the more interesting, however, through the fact that he is entirely self-taught, and has developed himself musically and intellectually away from those centers where the student congregates. Musically he is self-made. A deep thinker, he states his ideas frankly. A tall, broad-shouldered man, with dark, frank eyes, dark-brown hair, slightly silvered at the temples, although he is still in early life, his manner is genuine and straightforward. His face is that of a literary man rather than of a musician.
“No, I belong to no school,” he said presently, “for I am self-taught, and so I admire them all for the
good that there is in them. If I were asked, perhaps, who comes first with me I should say Mozart. I love
his music. As a boy I studied it devotedly. To-day I have his bust on my study-wall.
“The impression made upon me by Beethoven’s First Symphony I shall never forget. There was a big family of us, eight children in all, and it was a hard thing for me to get a quiet place to study in. We lived at Worcester, where my father had a music-shop. When I was allowed this score in particular to look over I locked myself up in the bath-room, the only really secluded spot I could get. The first and second movements did not impress me so forcibly, but when I got to the Scherzo a new world seemed opened out to me.
“The only lessons that I ever had in music were a few on the violin, which is my instrument. Through my father’s business I had access to a great deal of music, and studied and read all the books that I could get bearing on the subject, and, of course, on harmony and composition. I was intended for the law, but music held me.
“By and by, through teaching, I saved up seven pounds, and announced my intention of going to London to study. I took a little room down in Victoria at eight shillings a week and went to the violin master, Pallitzer. Under him I had five lessons, studying eagerly, as may be imagined, and then back to Worcester. I have kept away from London, living in the country, at Malvern now, where I do my composing in a cottage some distance from the house, hemmed in by trees, and away from the world.
“Many say that Englishmen are not romantic. With that I disagree. There is a vast difference between sentimentality and romance. Perhaps things in London impress me more strongly than they do those who live there constantly, but, when I go into the Guildhall, the center of the civic life, as it were, and see what has been done and the records and inscriptions of those things, the spirit of them impresses me very deeply. It is something of this spirit, and of the underlying jovialty as well, that I have sought to convey in my overture ‘Cockaigne.’
“The demand for choral works has caused very many to be written here in England, but too often, perhaps, with a regard for the mass of sound rather than for color, for many choruses like a good shout, especially in the north of England—but how well they sing! My idea in writing for chorus is that, while I regard four-part writing as the backbone, the voices should be divided into eight and sixteen parts, and again alotted to double chorus, trios, and so on. Then it is that value, contrast, and the color-effects of which massed voices are capable may be properly obtained.
“As to the ‘reading’ of scores which we hear discussed so much to-day I think that the broad outline is too frequently lost through a desire for infinite detail. The other day in passing out of Queen’s Hall I heard a group of young men discussing how this conductor and that read a certain passage. But did they know the composition itself? Perhaps so, but I fear not. And after all it is the composition itself, the whole broad outline, that is of the first importance for us to know.”