Beth Tree and the Elgars 10
Although this has little to do with the Elgars, I want to mention what was happening in the politics of Worcester. The nation was full of the repercussions of the national elections in
January, where the Liberals had an unbelievably big majority and swept to power. Everyone tried to put blame and find reasons for the huge shift in public opinion and the papers are full of stories of bribery and corruption. On January 18 there was dissolution of Parliament and all sorts of committees including an Election Commission were formed to look into the various scandals.
We in Worcester, unfortunately, were right in the middle of it. The main
complaint was against our M.P. He was accused of misappropriating a cheque for £100 and for bribing voters. Trying to sift through the facts was quite difficult as for every accusation by the
Conservatives, there was a counter accusation against them by the Liberals. I’m sure many politicians were very nervous, thinking that skeletons in their cupboards would soon be revealed.
The way the common labourer was supposedly bribed to vote was by being
offered a lift to the polling station, a drink of homemade rhubarb wine (or whatever else his tipple might have been) or 6d, presumably so he could buy and drink whatever in a location of his own choice. All sorts of accounts from people who said they were bribed cameforward, and as I said, it is a huge mess.
During this year my friend Muriel King's father, George Williams King, became the Mayor of Worcester, and as her mother was rather shy and not very good in public occasions, Muriel took her part as Mayoress on many occasions. Sometimes she called on us, her good friends, to help with some of her duties.
My sisters and I were with Muriel in trying to promote women’s suffrage and were very pleaed when it had another victory. In February, Finland, the first European country to do so, gave voting rights to all (including women) citizens over 24, except those supported by the state.
The Election Commissioners were busy in Worcester trying to sort out the facts of the scandal from the last election. Muriel's father was getting more and more politically minded, and being pestered to stand for council. He had been a councilor when he first moved to Worcester 20 years before, and apparently his father was an Alderman back in Surrey where he lived for the first part of his life.
The churches were trying hard to get trustworthy citizens to stand up and be counted when it came to civic office, and that influenced him. He came home one night, Muriel told us, and said that he felt that perhaps he had a calling to go back into politics. And Muriel said we would use his campaign, with our help, to reorganize the same group of us who marched and petitioned for women’s suffrage back in 1903. This time we were planning to try to influence women around here who already have the vote for local elections, but do not choose to use it.
The election was held on November 1st, and Mr. King was standing for St. Martin’s ward – along with Mr. Philips and Mr. Moore, both of whom were of the Progressive party. Mr. King won.
We heard a lot about politics at home, because my father, Warren Tree was at that time already a councillor and was standing for reelection. There was a rather disappointing result for my father. This time in St. Peter’s Ward, with four candidates standing, Mr. Wood topped the poll with 809, Mr. Whitefield had 794, Father got 585 and Mr. March 516. So he was out of the council.
As he had expected, when the new council first met on November 8, Mr King was appointed Mayor, by unanimous wish of the council. Muriel said, “Father did me one real favour in return for my help. He has got the council to agree to set up a committee in connection with the Women’s Suffrage issue.
As the year progressed, Muriel was now playing the mayoress quite often, and my sisters and I were included in many of the social events that happened at the town hall that year. For instance there was a Children’s Fancy Dress Ball in the assembly room. We helped with
the organising of it. Mayor King and his wife stood at one end of the assembly hall, and the children in lines of four came forward to be presented, curtsied or bowed to them, then separated in twos, and went around the outskirts of the hall again. Muriel and my sisters and I wore Georgian fashions with our hair powdered and styled as they did then. The children were dressed as Dick Whittington, Heralds, Spanish Matadors, Cavaliers, Japanese Geishas, Indians, Hiawatha, etc. The Elgars's daughter, Carise was there, dressed as a Normandy Peasant, and our brother Peter was an Old English Gentleman.
Sir Edward was worried about the fact that the Liberals had suppolanted the gentlman's party. And when GH Williamson, the MP for Worceter had to resign on corruption charges, he considered putting himself forward as a candidate. He wrote to fellow Conservative, Herbert Brewer, the organist, for advice. He really rather fancied the idea of being an MP, and standing across the floor from the “waiters” on the other side. But due to his limmited finances, he decided against it.
Sir Edward's father, old Mr. William Elgar died on January 12, but he was aged 84, so he had had a very full and long life. We all went to his funeral. Sir Edward and Lady Elgar were very overcome with emotion.
By this time, our family was pretty well grown up. I was playing the violin regularly in the Worcester Philhamonic Society orchestra, and also did some music teaching at our old School. The Elgars had taken an apartment in London, as Sir Edward had become so famous that it was important that he was near the heart of the country. There was talk
of him moving to the States, but although they frequently went there for concerts and to stay with friends, he decided against it. He kept writing and became close friends with Billy Reed, the leader of the London Symphony Orchestra. Sir Edward became the conductor for that orchestra for several years. He kept up his reputation of being enigmatic by dedicating his new violin concerto to “…” .
The Elgars became good friends with Julia Worthington and of course, the speculation about his love life came again. But Lady Elgar was her friend too and they were both staying in her villa near Florence when he wrote the violin concerto. Mrs. Elgar described Mrs. Worthington to me as a motherly woman and didn't seem phased by the gossip.
It was guessed that behind the dedications for each of the concerto's movements lay both a living inspiration and a ghost: Alice Stuart-Wortley and Helen Weaver in the first movement, Edward's wife and his mother in the second, Billy Reed and the late Mr Jaeger
in the finale. Still, Dr. Elgar had a penchant for puzzles and he assuredly knew their worth in terms of publicity. When he placed the “.....”on the Violin Concerto, he knew full well how intrigued his public would be. The fact that so many friends involved in the
concerto had names of five letters might also not have escaped him. Someone suggested that it might mean all his friends, as most of them had letters of five letters, and all the five-lettered friends had provided moral support, practical advice and muse-dom. Julia, Alice, Helen, Fritz, Billy. The work was teasingly dedicated in Spanish "Aquí está encerrada el alma de ....." which means here is concealed the soul of …..”
I read in the papers, “Do we prefer a mystery to "the excruciating boredom of pure fact"? Of course: that's human nature, and Dr. Elgar knew it. Having planted the enigma within the piece, he could sit back and watch the fun while everyone tried to work it out.
The big composition from Sir Edward during this time was The Kingdom, the next stage from the one on the Apostles. He seemed to take forever over writing it, and Lady Elgar would mention when I spoke to her of his bad moods and frustration about not getting things right. She had become a Catholic some years previous, but now Edward had stopped going to church, and this upset and worried her greatly.