The last set of major pieces Elgar composed – beginning with the Violin Sonata and String Quartet and ending with the famous Cello Concerto – all bear the scars of a world irrevocably changed by a terrible war. From the beginning, Elgar seems to have viewed the conflict with a measure of dread and depression; by the time it ended, his mood was justified – and gloomy, indeed.
Elgar started work on the Piano Quintet in September 1918, as soon as he had completed the Violin Sonata. He worked on it intermittently throughout the autumn, while also finishing the String Quartet. The finale of the quartet was dated 23 December 1918, and Elgar continued to revise and refine the Piano Quintet until April 1919.
The first movement opens with an expansive piano melody that’s accompanied by a focused, rhythmic tattoo from the strings; after a fragmentary, questioning string figure, the tempo shifts into a brooding, martial Allegro. This driving music is interrupted, suddenly, by a reprise of that inquisitive string melody; shortly thereafter a warm, typically Elgarian refrain in E major crops up, marking the music’s first turn from the minor mode.
These three primary ideas – the expansive opening tune, its rhythmic counterpoint, and the major-key episode – are treated to a series of involved, developmental procedures. After building to a furious climax that, essentially, pits the strings against the piano, the recapitulation, with its serene reiteration of the major-key material returns.
The second movement forms the Quintet’s emotional heart. It’s built around a touching melody first played by the viola, and later taken up by the violins. The melodic writing, which builds to a moving, soaring apex, is pure Elgar – possessing “something of Nimrod,” an early critic wrote.
The finale begins with a melody that hints at the first movement’s introduction before eliding into a gracious, triple-meter theme in a brisker tempo (Allegro). A second motive, syncopated, that we almost might call “jaunty,” provides a contrast that, thanks to episodes of increasing rhythmic dissonance, fast becomes more emotionally complex. Eventually, after a reprise of the slow, opening melody, and a final battle between strings and piano, this sunny music wins the day with a blaze of A major.
The Parish of St Leonard, Hythe
The ancient parish church of Hythe, St Leonard's has overlooked this historic Cinque Ports Town for nearly a thousand years.
St Leonard's is also known as "the church with the bones," on account of its famous ossuary containing a large collection of human bones.