“A mighty hunter before the Lord…”
Edward Elgar June 2nd, 1857 – 23 February 23rd, 1934
Elgar was the exact opposite of the typical English aristocrat of his time. He was very largely self taught, although he did have musical instruction from his father. He played several instruments well – piano, violin and bassoon – but most of what he learned about conducting, orchestration and composition he acquired on his own. He struggled for many years for recognition but was unable to earn enough money to support himself without taking all sorts of odd musical jobs on the side.
Then almost overnight he was famous, and it was through his Enigma Variations (1899) , which quickly became popular throughout the world. These variations started out with a theme, and then he used this theme to create a musical portrait of close friends. The “enigma” part comes from his claim that there is another theme, uniting all the variations, that no one has been able to figure out.
The most famous variation is called “Nimrod”, in honor of his close friend and publisher, Augustus J. Jaeger, who had encouraged him him to continue composing despite lack of fame and near bankruptcy.
(Nimrod is the name of an Old Testament patriarch described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord”. Jäger is a german word for “hunter”.)
Today there is no greater musical honor than hearing Nimrod played in memory of someone very famous and much loved. It is only about four minutes long, about the same length as may popular tunes written right now. Of course there is more, and here is the whole thing with a score for two pianos: