Complete Editions are usually regarded as providing the final, retrospective seal of authenticity on a composer’s work, a somewhat fusty academic exercise which considers, and records for posterity, every last nuance of the composer’s intentions. But the Elgar Complete Edition is proving to be a far more interesting experience, and ElgarWorks, publisher of the Complete Edition, is proud to announce the discovery, through the editing of the latest volume in the Edition, of two new songs by Elgar: The Millwheel and Muleteer’s Serenade. The two songs will be given what is believed to be their first public airing at the Elgar Birthplace at around 5.30pm on 2 June, Elgar’s 156th birthday.

It was always known that Elgar had set about composing the two songs as his wife’s diary records the dates, some two years apart, on which he did so. But neither song was published nor survives in fair copy, leading to the belief that both remained unfinished. Elgar subsequently incorporated, both musically and physically, what he had written into his 1896 cantata King Olaf, and it is only among his sketchbooks of material destined for the cantata, now at the British Library, that his pages of ideas for the two unrelated solo songs survive, heavily annotated with the changes he made to incorporate them into King Olaf.

To justify its name, a Complete Edition must include all of a composer’s works, whether or not completed and published, and we embarked on this volume (Vol.15: Solo Songs with Piano 1857-1900, described more fully in the second attachment) with the aim of separating Elgar’s original sketches from his later cantata amendments to allow us to publish in an appendix to the volume the solo songs in the incomplete form in which we believed he had left them before moving on to King Olaf. But as we pealed back the layers of history, it became increasingly apparent that, beneath the later accretions, we were left with two finished songs. We have not had to turn to Tony Payne to turn assorted fragments into performable works: all that appears in the volume, bar one or two editorial corrections, comes from Elgar’s own hand.

But what remains a mystery is why the solo songs were never published – until now.

 

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