Concerto for Cellists (2): Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor

The composer Josef Michl recalled that Dvořák was only interested in the middle register of the cello, but found it difficult to exploit the high and low parts of the sound in a concerto. But he, and many other composers since, have created cello concertos that have gone down in history.

One of the best known and most iconic is the Cello Concerto in E minor (Op. 85) by the English composer Edward Elgar.

The Cello Concerto in E minor was completed at the end of one of the world wars. It took him a whole year to recreate it after the devastation and catastrophic damage of the war, and he was able to put all the feelings of the war into the notes. He uses the movement to depict the different aspects of life and to reflect on the meaning of life. The entire movement is dominated by a melody in a minor key in the middle and slow version, which is echoed by the cello in the woodwinds, allowing the melody to continue. The cello solo in the middle section is richly varied, with brighter major sections, rapid pizzicato in the second movement and a slow, whispering melody in the third movement, before returning with power to the theme of the first movement in the final section, completing the movement of around 30 minutes.

Elgar’s Concerto was not a big hit when it was first released. Rumour has it that the London Symphony Orchestra did not have enough rehearsal time to perform it, which led to the debut being a disaster. It was not performed again until the 1960s when a version by the young and brilliant cello player Jacqueline du Pré brought the work back to prominence, and the recording of the performance was widely circulated around the world, becoming a cornerstone of classical cello writing.

Margaret Campbell, a music critic at the time, described this version of du Pré in the music magazine The Great Cellists as “angelic sounding, warm and delicate. The tone is so beautiful that it lends a romantic quality to the simplicity of the melody, and her technique itself is unmistakably flawed. It will be 50 years before people appreciate the bitterness and sweetness of Elgar’s music, but the music itself can transcend time and space, touching the hearts of listeners from different regions and generations.

Video of Jacqueline du Pré’s Cello Concerto in E minor:

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