Edward Elgar's influence on the classical music world is one that is to be admired. From the humble origins of being a piano tuner's son, he turned to the world of music after learning to play both the piano and violin, as well as accompanying his father on some of his work. He took after his mother in his admiration of the countryside and a love of literature, as well as being baptized into the Roman Catholic faith, much to the dismay of his father. Despite the education and life experience he acquired, he always felt very much an outsider looking in - but it was that mindset that led him to create some of his acclaimed pieces. The series that is particularly focused on by writer and performer of The Enigma of Edward Elgar, Michael Lunts, is the Enigma Variations. A series that celebrates and sometimes parodies people Elgar and his wife Alice knew.
Part conversation he wishes he had...part musical recital and part confessional.
Lunts plays Elgar in this insightful one-man-play as we catch him in a solitary, reflective moment having a one-sided conversation with his dead wife (spiritually, that is), whilst his daughter Carice looks after the dogs and the estate agent selling the house. Lunts deliberately writes it this way to fit in with the privacy Elgar treasured in his music room as he created his next piece. Only here, this is a sacred time that is part conversation he wishes he had with Alice, part musical recital and part confessional. It almost feels like we are intruding, but Lunts creates a space in St John the Baptist Church, Hove, that is safe and welcoming. Like we are privileged guests sharing a rare intimate moment.
Performing in a church always runs the acoustic risk of losing some of the words if too much energy is placed in the performance text. On this occasion at the beginning of this piece, it does fall briefly into that trap when he calls to someone to make sure all is in order whilst he is in the music room, but soon settles into a good volume and rhythm once the initial energy has subsided. Lunts then invites us to experience some of Elgar's viewpoints on people and life through his music and what some of the initials in the Enigma Variations are.
Two particular highlights stick out for me. Variation 1 C.A.E - Catherine Alice Elgar, his loving and supportive wife. We find out he wrote this with her in mind with the deep love they had for each other, plus that he had a secret whistle (used hauntingly throughout this show) to let her know he was home and his nickname for her was Carice (the same name they gave their daughter). The other was Variation 13 - ***. These asterisks protect the name of the woman he loved before he met Alice. To find out who she is, as well as the other characters referred to in the songs, The Enigma of Edward Elgar is one to be explored.