Elgar and Wolverhampton Wanderers - an unlikely match
Sep 3 2010 By Christopher Morley
Edward Elgar, St Peter’s and Wolverhampton Wanderers have a lot in common, writes Christopher Morley.
In February 1898, Edward Elgar was part of the crowd at Molineux, watching a football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Stoke City, two of the founder members of the Football League a decade earlier.
His companion was the young Dora Penny, daughter of the Rector of St Peter’s Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton, and soon to be immortalised as the stammering, dancing “Dorabella” in Elgar’s matchless Enigma Variations of 1899.
Elgar’s alleged love of football, and of Wolves in particular, might perhaps have been exaggerated over the years. He had to ask Dora early on in their acquaintance (her stepmother was a friend of Elgar’s wife), on which day did Wolves play?
Some football-follower who had to ask a question like that. And I cannot believe what chroniclers tell us, that Elgar and Dora’s first match together was when Wolves Reserves beat Singers’ FC in the Birmingham League, in front of a crowd of 60,000. Sixty thousand for a reserves match?
Whatever the numbers involved, Dora paints a graphic picture of the atmosphere in her book Edward Elgar: Memories of a Variation: “It all delighted him.
"The dense crowd flowing down the road like a river; the roar of welcome as the rival teams came on to the ground; the shouts of men calling to their player-friends by their Christian names – usually considerably shortened; the staccato ‘Aw!’ at a mishap (a most remarkable sound from a crowd of 60,000); and the deafening roar that greeted a goal.”
But to return to this Staffordshire local derby early in 1898, which Keith Alldritt brilliantly reconstructs in his well-researched novel Elgar on the Journey to Hanley.
Elgar was taken with the turn of phrase of a local football reporter who described a successful shot on target in the words “he banged the leather for goal”.
Spontaneously, Elgar set these words to music, a dramatic phrase involving a descending minor ninth over excitable tremolandi in the accompaniment, with a crashing downward flourish. He was tempted to include this outburst in the great cantata Caractacus he was composing at the time, but wisely decided against it.
And at the end of this month we will be able to hear these notes for the first time, when the Choirs of St Peter’s Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton, perform the fragment, expanded into an anthem by director of music Peter Morris.
This will be the novelty in a concert devoted otherwise to more “serious” Elgar, featuring the Wolverhampton Symphony Orchestra: the first Wand of Youth Suite, some Elgar anthems, and the Enigma Variations – with, at their heart, Dorabella herself, returning in spirit to the church where her father, the Reverend Alfred Penny, had first made the composer’s acquaintance.
But the links between the church, this concert, and Wolves continue to proliferate. Taking part in the performance will be the soprano Rita Cullis, much loved by Welsh National Opera audiences, and a respected tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire, who will be singing some Elgar songs.