Friday, June 7, 2013

Enigma Variations

Halle Sir John Barbirolli 1956 A definitive performance. The Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar are a set of a theme and its fourteen variations written for orchestra in 1899. Elgar dedicated the piece to “my friends pictured within” as each variation is a portrayal of one of close acquaintances. In the score, each variation is prefaced with a nickname or initials as a clue to the identity of the friend depicted. The Ninth variation has become very popular and carries the name “Nimrod”, a punning reference to the Old Testament patriarch described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord”. The German word for “hunter” is Jaeger and that is why the name “Nimrod” refers to Augustus J. Jaeger, a music editor who was for a long time a close friend of Elgar, giving him useful advice, but was also his severe critic. Elgar related on many occasions how Jaeger had encouraged him as an artist and had stimulated him to continue composing despite many setbacks and frustration. This variation is sometimes used at funerals, memorial services, and other solemn occasions. It is always played at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday in November). Sir John Barbirolli has given a great performance here. Another version I like is the one by Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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