Organ Sonata (Elgar)

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The Worcester Cathedral organ for which the Sonata was written

The Sonata in G major, Op 28 is Sir Edward Elgar's first sonata composed for the organ and first performed on 8 July 1895. It also exists in an arrangement for full orchestra made after Elgar's death. A second organ sonata was arranged by Ivor Atkins from Elgar's Severn Suite, written as a test piece for a 1930 brass band competition.


There are four movements:

I. Allegro maestoso
II. Allegretto
III. Andanto espressivo
IV. Presto (comodo)

The outer movements follow the classic sonata form; the inner movements are in three-part A-B-A form. Michael Kennedy[1] observes that to play the finale successfully, the organist needs to be a mental and physical athlete.

The opening theme resembles the beginning of Elgar's Black Knight, a cantata he had just been working on.

The genesis of the work was a request to Elgar to write an organ voluntary for a convention of American organists in the English city of Worcester in 1895. Instead, Elgar decided on a four movement sonata of nearly half an hour's length. It was first performed by the Worcester Cathedral organist, Hugh Blair, on 8 July 1895. According to the score inscription, it took Elgar only a week to write the piece.[2]

The work was dedicated to Elgar’s friend and fellow-musician, Charles Swinnerton Heap (1847-1900).


In the 1940s, the decade after Elgar’s death, the publishers decided that an orchestration of the sonata should be commissioned, and having consulted the composer’s daughter and the conductor Sir Adrian Boult, they entrusted the job to Gordon Jacob. The orchestrated sonata was performed in 1946 (by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Boult). It was neglected for decades thereafter, being revived in 1988 in a recording by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. The notes to that recording aver that ‘due to Jacob’s sympathetic scoring the version may be described as Elgar’s Symphony No 0,’ though this may be thought an optimistic claim, as for nearly twenty years after the recording was made it remained the only one in the catalogue, compared with four recordings of Anthony Payne’s elaboration of Elgar’s sketches for the Symphony No 3. In 2007 a second recording of the orchestrated sonata was issued by Chandos Records, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Richard Hickox.

There exists another orchestration of the sonata made by John Morrison (born 1936, member of the Elgar Society), completed without his being aware of the earlier work by Gordon Jacob.


The organ sonata has been recorded by, inter alia, Jennifer Bate, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Carlo Curley, Harold Darke, Gareth Green, Christopher Herrick, Donald Hunt,[3] Nicolas Kynaston, James Lancelot, Thomas Murray, Simon Preston, Wolfgang Rübsam, Arturo Sacchetti, John Scott, Herbert Sumsion and Thomas Trotter. The first recording of the orchestrated version was made in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool in 1988 for EMI. A second recording, under Hickox, (details above) was issued in 2007.


  • Notes to Bayer CD BR-100049 (recording by Wolfgang Rübsam) and EMI EMI CD-EMX 2148 (orchestral version).
  • Hyperion recording notes


  1. ^ Kennedy, Michael, Portrait of Elgar (3rd edition), Oxford, OUP, 1987)
  2. ^ Q&A on Elgar music
  3. ^ on the organ of Worcester Cathedral, for which it was originally written