Thursday, September 8, 2011
A Composer's Rest
St Wulstan’s Roman Catholic Church is a hidden jewel in the crown that is the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. Blink as you drive west on the A449 and you will miss it, situated as it is on the downward slope to the left of the road. It’s a beautiful building in itself, and even the more valuable as it continues to be a vibrant parish church for those of the Roman tradition, but the main reason for the frequency of visitors is that it is where Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is buried. It may come as a surprise to some that the quintessential English composer was not an Anglican (and to be sure that would have raised some social eyebrows during Elgar’s life) but that only adds to the enigma of the man and his music. Not that he was religious in the traditional sense of the word. After the initial lukewarm public response to The Dream of Gerontius in 1900 he was quoted as saying, “"I always knew God was against art..." continuing, "I have allowed my heart to open once - it is now shut against every religious feeling...”
Elgar is buried next to his wife Caroline Alice who died fourteen years before him. She died in the springtime and he wrote in his journal:
“The place she chose long years ago is too sweet – the blossoms are white all round and the illimitable plain, with all the hills and churches in the distance which were hers from childhood, looks just the same – inscrutable and unchanging.”
It is quite a remarkable view as the eye travels to and over the Severn flood plain, with Bredon Hill to the south-east and the undulating fields of Worcestershire rippling as far as the eye can see. But unchanging? Superficially perhaps, until one travels across that countryside and experiences the rural poverty and decay on the one hand, and on the other the neglect of village community life by affluent town people buying up picture postcard cottages. And the churches that were Lady Elgar’s from childhood are now three quarters empty, except at Harvest and Christmas, and sharing a vicar with as many as ten other parishes.
Sometimes I like to turn a hundred and eighty degrees and look up at the higher view. Now the Malvern Hills haven’t changed one bit!
Posted by Tim Lewis at 1:01 PM