13 March 2007

Sir Edward Elgar 1857-2007

Sir Edward ElgarThe news of the death of Sir Edward Elgar will come as an enormous shock to all those who loved him, particularly given that he was born in 1857 and was originally believed to have died in 1934.

Famed throughout his first life for such great works as The Enigma Variations - whose Nimrod variation, when played at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday is capable of bringing a tear to the eye of everyone from Telegraph-reading, retired colonels to happy-slapping youths - and the Pomp & Circumstance Marches that gave birth to Land of Hope & Glory, Sir Edward Elgar was one of the greatest British composers. Many believe his music had an uncanny ability to connect with the British people, an ability that was doubtless the product both of his enormous (and self-taught) musical gifts and of the fact that he first started composing in earnest while working as bandmaster at the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum. At the time of his original death in 1934 he was the country's best-loved composer and Master of the King's Musick.

Left to rest peacefully in his grave for more than 65 years, Sir Edward was only exhumed in 1999, when the authorities at the Royal Mint decided to place him on the face of the £20 note - a position from which he could look down on Charles Darwin and his £10 note and look up to Sir John Houblon and his £50 note, doubtless joining the rest of the public in wondering who the hell Sir John Houblon was and what on earth he had done to rank above one of Britain's greatest composers and one of the world's greatest scientists.

For eight years, Sir Edward did loyal service on the £20 note, whether being slid into wallets, crumpled into pockets, rolled up in the lavatories of media haunts and snorted through or even handed over to politicians in exchange for a "baronetcy for myself and summink nice for the wife". Through all the crumplings up, impromptu origami sessions and even during many dark moments on boil wash in the washing machine while lying forgotten in a back pocket, the aged composer uttered no word of complaint.

Despite such Stakhanovite toil, Sir Edward soon found himself the victim of a whispering campaign in the Mint. He was, it was said, too old-fashioned and easy to copy - a charge which was to prove all too true when it was discovered that his image was spending more time on photocopiers than that fat bloke from accounting's arse did at office parties.

Sir Edward's doom was decreed. In March 2007 he was cast aside by the Royal Mint, to be replaced by the great Scottish economist Adam Smith - the man who first felt the invisible hand of the market (though the matter has yet to be brought to court). Sir Edward will be buried in the graveyard of deceased banknote characters alongside Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale and that dodgy copy of Elizabeth Fry on a five-pound note I got passed with the rest of my change in the pub last night.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Love it! You had me worried there at the beginning, I must admit! Poor old EE - first his tune gets used to symbolise all that he despised, then he gets "buried" by the Mint!

james higham said...

Well, I never knew that. Another great post. Thanks.