Beth Tree and the Elgars 9
We didn't see a lot of Dr. Elgar, who by 1903 had been made an honourary Doctor of Music by Cambridge University. I remember that I was surprised to see him at the funeral of the father of my good friend May Stinton. She had also had lessons with Dr. Elgar, but I think probably his main reason for going was that her mother, Mrs. Eliza Stinton, sang in his chorus, and had a very impressive soprano voice. Her name was often listed in the paper as a soloist when Dr. Edgar's Choral Society would sing at the Three Choirs Festivals.
In 1904 he was made Sir Edward Elgar, and his wife became Lady Elgar.
We occasionally caught glimpses of Dr. Elgar when he was visiting his father, and we also saw him with his daughter Carise and his brother's child on occasion.
1905 was another big year in Sir Elgar's life. In early September, the Mayor, Hubert Leicester seconded by the High Sheriff, resolved unanimously: “That pursuant to the Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act, 1885, the Honorary Freedom of the City of Worcester, be conferred upon Sir Edward William Elgar, Musc. Doc., LL.D; in
recognition of the eminent position which he, a Citizen of the Faithful City, has attained in the Musical World; and that he be admitted as an Honorary Freeman accordingly.”
Luckily I kept the newspaper for this event, so I can write with great authority.
At the Three Choirs festival which was held in Worcester that year, among the items on the programme were new works: the Introduction and Allegro and the 3rd Pomp and Circumstance March. His London publisher, Mr. Jaegar was there, (he for whom Nimrod was written) and the composer Havergal Brian. The Mayor and members of the Corporation went to St. George’s Catholic Church with Mr. Elgar) for a prayer service at the start of the proceedings.
Then they went to the Guildhall and from there to the Cathedral with the Mayor, the High Sheriff and all the aldermen in their civic robes and Sir Edward walking solemnly in their midst, clothed in a strange gown which puzzled most of the onlookers. Upon inquiry this turned out to be the Yale University gown and hood which he hastened to wear on the very first occasion that a Doctor of Music’s robes were needed at any of his public engagements. It was also lovely that when Sir. Edward turned as he passed a certain house in the High Street on his way to the cathedral he saluted an old gentleman whose face could just be seen looking out of an upper window. It was his father, who was watching the honour being paid to his son by the city of his birth. Being very old and growing feeble, William Edgar was unable to leave his room; but what must his feelings have been on looking out of that window and seeing before his very eyes the fulfillment of his wildest dreams! How he must have wished that his mother had lived to see this day too.
His new symphony Gerontius followed the ceremony, conducted by Atkins, and then the Mayor’s luncheon for him. Atkins Hymn of Faith for which Sir Edward had written the libretto, was played in the afternoon and then Sir Edward conducted the Introduction
& Allegro at the evening concert.
The next day, Sir Edward conducted The Apostles in the morning. The composer Thomas Dunhill (one of his pieces was being performed at the festival) is quoted as saying: “He was most adorable to me. His praise of my song pleased me more than I could express. To a young musician, only just free from the shackles of student life, this was a thrilling privilege for which I was quite unprepared, for Sir Edward is now at the summit of his career and was entertaining a large house-party of close friends and ardent admirers.”
Several of his ardent admirers were women and this sparked querries about whether he
had a mistress.
I know there was a lot of gossip amongst my musical friends, many of whom had learned from him, or played for him.
“He was such a flirt,” said one. “He was forever giving me the eye. And when I was given the first violin part in his Symphony, he told me that it was mandatory that I wear blue knickers for the occasion. Imagine how I felt when he said that. My face was scarlet.”
“And did you?” I asked.
“Yes, and just as well I did, for before the performance, when he was giving us a pep talk, he took his stick and lifted my dress to ascertain if I had followed his instructions.”
“Did he ever proposition you,” we wanted to know.
“No, and I think he was fairly well taken care of by Rosa Burley (pictured above) – you
know the Headmistress of the Manor School.”
“You mustn't say things like that unless you know for certain,” I put in. “He is always very loving to lady. Elgar when I see them together. I think they are very happy.”
“But she is so old. She probably doesn't mind if he goes off with someone else for a romp, which would mean that was one job she didn't have to do for him.”
With all his concerts, Sir Edward still made time to teach. He persuaded Mrs. Fitton , a close family friend, to have him teach her Isabel who was very beautiful and was learning the viola. Apparently Sir Edward spend a lot of time telling her how to hold the bow and
depress the strings but, my friends heard, it was merely a ruse to be close to her and her hands. In the end Isabel stopped the lessons. She said she was afraid of what Sir Edward was leading up to.
“He and Miss Burley were always cycling together into the hills, and they spent a long time there. You can imagine what they were doing,” added another friend.
“I've seen them cycling together but there were girls from the school with them too.”
“But if you had kept watching, you would have seen the girls go home earlier, and Sir Edward and Rosa kept going on their own.”
“Do you think one of the variations of the Enigma was done for Miss Burley?”
“I don't think so. Not according to Mrs. Elgar.”
“There is talk that he has a mistress somewhere in London, and she is the one whose variation is just marked with three dots.”
“But nothing is proved, is it? It is all speculation, and very damaging to his reputation. And think what Lady Elgar would think if she heard us talking of these things,” I said.
“There is no doubt that he loves her and will stay married to her, but I also think that a man who has such a high level of sex drive would need some outlet, and if his wife were more of a mother to him, perhaps she does know, but prefers not to make anything of it,”
suggested one friend.