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Elgar : Carillon, Op.75. First separate edition of the piano score with cover design by Darcy Braddell. London, 1914.

Elgar’s Carillon

November 2014

At the beginning of November 1914 Elgar was approached by the journalist and novelist Hall Caine (later Sir Hall Caine, 1853 -1931) with a request for a contribution to a proposed international anthology in support of Belgium, to be published by The Daily Telegraph and presented to Albert, King of the Belgians.  The composer’s initial reluctance to collaborate was met sympathetically (‘If it had been possible for you to write any new piece of music on this immense theme I’m sure you would have done it already’, wrote Caine) but was followed almost immediately by a change of heart.  Elgar had been greatly moved by a poem he had read in The Observer the previous month : a response by the Belgian-born poet Emile Cammaerts (1878-1953) to the German occupation of Antwerp from October 9.  Cammaerts, now living in London, had married Tita Brand, the actress daughter of Marie Brema (Elgar’s first Angel in Gerontius in 1900).  Tita’s advice was sought in connection with a possible setting of the poem, as was that of Rosa Burley, another old friend.  The latter suggested that Elgar ‘should not try to tie himself to the metre of the words … but that he should provide an illustrative prelude and entractes as background music for a recitation of the poem’.

The work was finished on 18 November and first performed in a London Symphony Orchestra concert at Queen’s Hall on 7 November, with Tita Brand reciting the French text and Elgar conducting.  King Albert’s Book appeared in mid-December, with Carillon among fourteen musical contributions, plates by twenty-eight artists and prose and verse from more than fifty writers.  At about the same time a separate edition of the piano score (with French and English text) was published by Elkin, its cover design by Darcy Braddell, here shown as our main image.  A few months later an organ transcription was published, followed by orchestral score and parts, a simplified piano arrangement and a transcription for piano, organ and bells.  The work was an immediate success with the public and received numerous performances during the War, declaimed by a variety of distinguished actors, both French and English.  It was recorded, again under Elgar’s baton, in January 1915.

Together with Cammaerts’s other ‘chants patriotiques’ the poem appeared in his Belgian Poems (London, 1915), with English translations by Tita Brand-Cammaerts.  This also proved extremely popular.