The Music Makers (Elgar)
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.
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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:
- 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. The music also quotes the first and second symphonies, the Violin Concerto, "Nimrod" (from the Enigma Variations), Rule, Britannia and La Marseillaise.
However, it is possible to make too much of the self-quotations. Most of the music is original, and Elgar more than does justice to O'Shaughnessy, displaying a perfect ear for the sounds of the chorus and the mezzo-soprano.
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. 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.
- Elgar recorded extracts of the work at the Three Choirs Festival on September 8, 1927
- London Philharmonic Choir (chorus master : Frederic Jackson), London Philharmonic Orchestra and with Janet Baker, conducted by Adrian Boult, coupled with The Dream of Gerontius (EMI, December 1966)
- BBC Symphony Orchestra and chorus with Jean Rigby, conducted by Andrew Davis, coupled with short orchestral pieces (Teldec, 1994)
- Hallé Orchestra and Choir with Jane Irwin, conducted by Mark Elder, coupled with Froissart, Dream Children and J.S. Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in C minor (Hallé HLL 7509, 2005)
- Music Makers / Sea Pictures, Naxos 8.557710. Sarah Connolly, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Wright. This recording was a 2007 Grammy nominee, for the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance