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ClassicsOnline Home » ELGAR: Falstaff / The Sanguine Fan
Falstaff, Op. 68;
Elegy, Op. 58; The Sanguine Fan, Op. 81
The idea for what was to become Falstaff, Symphonic Study in C
minor, had been a possibility in Elgar's mind since 1901, but it was not until
1913 that he set to work seriously, determined to provide a work in response to
a commission for the coming Leeds Festival, and completing the composition on
5th August. Dedicated to the conductor Landon Ronald, who directed the first
London performance, Falstaff allies the composer with the Richard Strauss of
the symphonic poems and was seen by George Bernard Shaw as a distinct rival,
outclassing Till Eulenspiegel and Don Quixote. The work held a
very special place in the affections of the composer. As he explained in a
letter to the critic Ernest Newman: "Falstaff… is the name but Shakespeare
– the whole of human life – is the theme… over it all runs – even in the tavern
– the undercurrent of our failings and sorrows". And towards the end of
the period of composition Elgar told a reporter: "I have, I think, enjoyed
writing it more than any other music I have composed… I shall say ‘good-bye’ to
it with regret, for the hours I have spent on it have brought me a great deal
Shakespeare's greatest comic creation, Falstaff, makes his first
appearance in King Henry the Fourth, Part 1, as a partner of riot and
dishonour with the king's tearaway son, Prince Henry, affectionately known as
Hal. A highway robbery is arranged by Falstaff and his companions, after which
he himself is robbed by the Prince and Poins, in disguise. Once back at the
Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap, they proceed to mock Falstaff for his cowardice
and outrageous boasting. In the midst of the revelry, the Sheriff and his men
come to arrest Falstaff for theft, but Prince Hal has hidden him behind a
curtain, where he falls into a drunken sleep, and according to Elgar, dreams of
his innocent childhood. Later, Falstaff is ordered to raise a company of
soldiers for the civil war, and at the home of his old friend Justice Shallow
in Gloucestershire he turns matters to a profit by selling a discharge to those
he has first chosen, and recruiting in their place a band of unfit and
incompetent scarecrows. As he relaxes in Shallow's orchard, news is brought of
the death of King Henry IV and of the Prince's accession to the throne.
Falstaff hurries back to London, hoping for honours from the King. On greeting
him as he enters Westminster Abbey for the coronation, Falstaff finds himself
cruelly rejected by King Henry V, who is determined to put his disreputable
past behind him. Falstaff never recovers from the blow and becomes a shadow of
his former portly self, though still preserving happy memories of their earlier
Elgar was so eager for listeners to understand the way his music
reflected the different episodes portrayed in Falstaff that he wrote an
extended analysis of the work, which was published before the first
performance. In this, though not in the score, he divided the work into four
sections of varying length and gave them titles.
 Falstaff and Prince Hal
With the scene set in Prince Hal's apartments, the work starts with the
principal Falstaff theme, which will return throughout the work in varied
tempi, knitting together the whole musical fabric. Other themes follow,
representing Falstaff in witty and mercurial mood, before we hear Prince Hal's
noble, courtly theme, marked con anima (with spirit). Another Falstaff
theme, on the cellos, represents him as persuasive and cajoling. All this
material returns and is developed in a way that is consistent with Elgar's
 Eastcheap. The robbery at Gadshill.
The Boar's Head again. Revelry and sleep
The action moves to a more disreputable part of London, where Falstaff,
the Prince and their companions are entertained by the "honest
gentlewomen" of the district: the hostess, Doll Tearsheet and others.
Their theme is accompanied by an upwardly ripping, 'Tearsheet' figure. Falstaff
holds court, and is represented by a new set of themes. This is capped by what
Elgar describes as a "gargantuan, wide-compassed fortissimo", a
demonstration of his hero's boastfulness and "colossal mendacity".
The music becomes calmer and more fragmented before we hear a quiet theme,
described by Elgar as representing "cheerful, out-of-door, ambling,"
its dotted rhythm recalling Falstaff's first resilient, bouncing theme. There
are muffled calls through the wood at Gadshill, as muted strings and horns
reflect the furtive scurryings that precede the energetic double robbery. After
a return to the Boar's Head Tavern and a scherzo-like development of the
Eastcheap themes, the tipsy Bardolph is depicted by a hicupping solo bassoon,
and then we hear the deep sounds of Falstaff's snoring as he falls asleep. This
leads to the first Interlude , which recalls Falstaff as a boy, when
he was page to the Duke of Norfolk. The touching Dream Interlude suggests,
Elgar says, "what might have been."
 Falstaff's March.
The return through Gloucestershire.
The new King and the hurried ride to London.
The third part opens with the themes suggesting Falstaff's wit, but
these are interrupted by a distant fanfare. This is soon heard closer at hand,
and leads into a lopsided march for Falstaff's "scarecrow army".
After the excitement of the battle the scene approaches the fields and
apple-trees of Gloucestershire with sweetly lyrical music, introduced by the
strings, to be followed by the 'ambling' theme. The second Interlude – in
Shallow's orchard , has what Elgar calls "an old English
flavour" and features some "sadly merry pipe and tabor music",
as well as some dreamy musings in the lower strings. Suddenly news is brought
of the death of the old King and the accession of Prince Hal to the throne,
indicated by his theme of courtly grandeur, which throws Falstaff into a state
of elation at the prospect of his own future advancement.
 King Henry V's progress.
The repudiation of Falstaff and his death
Elgar's Elegy, Opus 58, for string orchestra, a work of profound
sensibility, was written in 1909 and first performed at The Mansion House, in
the City of London, on 13th July of the same year. The music is intensely
moving and heart-felt, reflecting, it may be supposed, sorrow at the recent
death of colleagues, notably of his friend and adviser August Johannes Jaeger,
the Nimrod of the Enigma Variations.
The ballet The Sanguine Fan was written in 1917 for a charity
matinée, a revue, Chelsea on Tip-Toe, in aid of Concerts at the Front.
The ballet was based on a painted fan designed by Charles Conder and showing a
forest glade, with an open distant prospect in the centre. In the ballet, there
is in the middle of the stage a 'somewhat disfigured statue of Eros'. Pan
enters, his pipe represented by the sound of the clarinet, to the flute of
Echo. He falls asleep, to the sound of the cello, and a young man and two young
ladies enter, in amorous conversation, as one drops her fan, picked up by the
young man, who escorts his partner away. Echo now approaches, waking Pan and
engaging in flirtation with him, moving quickly here and there, with coy pauses
in her dance, while Pan shows a greater degree of vigour, entranced by her, but
eventually falling asleep once more. The young man and the girl return, having
quarrelled, and he curses Eros, the god of love. Thunder suggests the approach
of a storm. Echo now, stealing Pan's pipes, flirts with the young man and they
dance together. At this Pan wakes, in angry jealousy. The young man tries to
take refuge by the statue of Eros, which then, with a thunderbolt, strikes him
dead. Pan now tries to punish Echo but is overcome by her charms and carries
her off, leaving the mortal girl to mourn over the young man.
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ELGAR: Falstaff / The Sanguine Fan