String Quartet (Elgar)

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The String Quartet in E minor, Op. 83, was one of three major chamber music works composed by Sir Edward Elgar in 1918. The others were the Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82, and the Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84. Along with the Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 of 1919, these were to be his last major works prior to his death in 1934.


The String Quartet lasts for around 25 minutes and is in three movements:

  1. Allegro moderato, 12/8
  2. Piacevole (poco andante), 3/8
  3. Allegro molto, 4/4

2nd movement[edit]

The middle movement was a favourite of Elgar's wife Lady Elgar,[1] who described it as "captured sunshine".[2] It contains a quotation from his Chanson de Matin.[3] It was played at Lady Elgar's funeral in 1920, by Albert Sammons, W. H Reed, Lionel Tertis and Felix Salmond.

This movement also contains a feature that Elgar, near the end of his life, in conversation with Arthur Troyte Griffith, claimed to be "something that has never been done before". When asked what he meant, Elgar merely replied: "Nothing you would understand, merely an arrangement of notes". Musicologists have mulled over this claim ever since, without coming to a general consensus as to what it refers to.[4]


Elgar had written a string quartet much earlier in his career, to which he assigned the opus number 8, but destroyed it. He made several other attempts, which all came to nothing. For example, he put aside work on a quartet to work on his First Symphony.[5]

This quartet originated from a request by Carl Fuchs, cellist of the Brodsky Quartet and professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music. In February 1900, Elgar and his wife attended a performance of his Enigma Variations in Manchester, conducted by Hans Richter. At supper after the concert Richter introduced Elgar to Adolph Brodsky and his wife, and to Carl Fuchs. Fuchs then asked Elgar to compose a quartet for them.[6][7]

In 1917, Elgar was ill and depressed by war-time London. Lady Elgar found "Brinkwells", a cottage surrounded by woods near Fittleworth in Sussex, in which he could work in seclusion away from the cares of the world. He began work on the String Quartet on 25 March 1918, while recovering in a nursing home after having his tonsils removed.[8] He finished only the first subject of the first movement at that time. Then he turned his focus to the Violin Sonata in E minor, completing it on 15 September. He then immediately set to work on the Piano Quintet in A minor. He interrupted work on that piece on 8 October to return to the Quartet; he completed the middle movement on 26 November,[4] and the final movement on 11 December[2] (26 December according to Jerrold Northrop Moore).[7] He completed the Piano Quintet in January 1919.[9] The Quartet was first performed privately at the London home of his friend Frank Schuster, on 22 April 1919.[10]

Elgar was assisted in the violin writing, as he had been in the writing of the Violin Concerto in B minor in 1909–10, by his great friend W. H. "Billy" Reed.[11]


The String Quartet in E minor was dedicated to the Brodsky Quartet,[12] led by Adolph Brodsky, in honour of the promise Elgar had made years earlier to write a work for them. However, the members of the Brodsky Quartet were now around 70 years of age.[7] The Quartet's public premiere was given by Albert Sammons and W. H. Reed, violins; Raymond Jeremy, viola; and Felix Salmond, cello.[11] The group was billed as the "British String Quartet". (Some sources say the London String Quartet gave the premiere, but Albert Sammons was the only member common to both groups.) The premiere was given on 21 May 1919, at the Wigmore Hall, London, the Piano Quintet in A minor also receiving its premiere on this occasion.[5] There had also been a private premiere on 26 April.


  • Kennedy, Michael (1987). Portrait of Elgar (third ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-284017-7. 
  • McVeagh, Diana M. (2007). Elgar the Music Maker. London: Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1-84383-295-9. 
  • Moore, Jerrold N. (1984). Edward Elgar: a Creative Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-315447-1. 
  • Reed, W.H. (1946). Elgar. London: Dent. OCLC 8858707. 


  1. ^ Classical Archives
  2. ^ a b Kim Diehnelt
  3. ^ Diana M. McVeagh, Elgar the Music Maker
  4. ^ a b Access My Library
  5. ^ a b Classics Online
  6. ^ Kennedy, Michael (1987) Portrait of Elgar (Third ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-284017-7.
  7. ^ a b c Moore, Jerrold Northrop (1999). Edward Elgar: A Creative Life. Oxford University Press. pp. 299, 734. ISBN 978-0-19-816366-4. 
  8. ^ W H Reed, Elgar
  9. ^ Kennedy, Michael (2001). "Elgar: String Quartet · Quintet". Chandos Records. Retrieved 26 September 2010. 
  10. ^ Kennedy Portrait of Elgar p. 294
  11. ^ a b W H Reed, Elgar
  12. ^ No relation to the Brodsky Quartet formed in 1972.

External links[edit]