Elgar’s Enigma Variations – Work No. 94 in our collection

Edward Elgar (02.061857 – 23.02.1934) was an English composer, whose best-known compositions are his orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, the concertos for violin and cello, and his two wonderful symphonies.

Elgar’s popular Enigma Variations, Op. 36 is based on the countermelody to an unheard theme, which Elgar said was a well-known tune he would not identify—hence the enigma. Repeated attempts to discover it have been unsuccessful. All but the last of the fourteen variations refer cryptically to friends of Elgar, the exception being his own musical self-portrait. This work, more than any other, led to Elgar’s recognition as a leading composer and it remains one of his most frequently performed compositions.

There are many fine recordings of this work not least one conducted by the composer himself with the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra in 1926. More recently we have gained great pleasure from the Hallé Orchestra under Sir Mark Elder (2002), the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis (2009) and most recently a 2016 Hyperion recording of BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins. However the version to which we turn most frequently is Sir Adrian Boult’s performance with the London Symphony Orchestra recorded in Kingsway Hall, London in August 1970.

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