The Music Makers (Elgar)

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The Music Makers, Op. 69, is a work for contralto or mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra composed by Edward Elgar. It was dedicated to "my friend Nicholas Kilburn". It was first performed at the Birmingham Festival on 1 October 1912, conducted by the composer, with Muriel Foster as the soloist.

The text of the work is the 1874 poem Ode by Arthur O'Shaughnessy, which Elgar set in its entirety. He had been working on the music intermittently since 1903,[1] without a specific commission.


The words of the poem no doubt appealed to Elgar's nature, as it celebrates the dreaming artist — by 1912, he was established as part of British artistic society, but was ambivalent at best about that society. The mood of the Ode is clear in the first lines, which depict the isolation of the creative artist:[2]

We are the music makers,
 And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
 And sitting by desolate streams...

Later verses celebrate the importance of the artist to his society.

The music is for the most part reserved and personal, and Elgar quotes his own music several times. Sometimes there is a specific verbal cue: for example, the word "dreams" is accompanied by a theme from The Dream of Gerontius, and "sea-breakers" by the opening of Sea Pictures.[2] The music also quotes the first and second symphonies, the Violin Concerto, "Nimrod" (from the Enigma Variations), Rule, Britannia and La Marseillaise. Most of the music however is original.


It was commissioned for, and first performed at, the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, 1912. Early criticism of the work was directed more at the words than at the music, but it was also dismissed as tawdry and self-centred.[1] It is true that performances are rare, particularly outside England. The self-quotations inevitably bring to mind Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, but with different intent; Elgar is depicting the artist not as hero but as bard.

Notable recordings[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kennedy, Michael (1987). Portrait of Elgar (Third ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 252–254. ISBN 0-19-284017-7.
  2. ^ a b "Booklet for 'Elgar: Sea Pictures & The Music Makers', CHAN 9022" (PDF). CHANDOS. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2014.

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