Walk One - Hereford and Warham
The image at the top of the page shows Elgar leaning on his trusty Sunbeam, Mr Phoebus.
Memories of Elgar
Edward Elgar was making his last appearance at Hereford Cathedral. His daughter Carice would later say: “He seemed so full of vitality - yet I felt so sure all that summer that we were doing things for the last time.”Among the close friends he met during Three Choirs Festival week were George Bernard Shaw, and distinguished festival favourite Ralph Vaughan Williams, best known for The Lark Ascending.
In the choir, a fledgling songster, Michael Morris, was making his debut under the regal composer’s baton. Reflecting in 2014, Michael said: “I was a very small probationer chorister and remember Sir Edward conducting a number of his best known, wonderful works, notably The Dream Of Gerontius and The Kingdom. I am the sole survivor of the 1933 Three Choirs Festival. One other person, Mrs. Molly Proctor was a young lady who was in Hereford Choral Society but she did not sing in the 1933 festival. Dear Molly is about 101 now, I think.”
For the first three decades of the twentieth century Elgar bestrode the Three Choirs Festival. From 1904 till 1911 he lived in Hereford at Plas Gwyn. It was here that he composed Wand of Youth and first played, with Percy Hull, the piano duet arrangement of Enigma Variations. When Hull apologised for misreading some of the quick passages in the bass part, Elgar, almost pre-empting Eric Morecambe, replied “Never mind the right notes, it’s the rhythm that matters”.
Michael sang many times under Hull, the Hereford Cathedral organist and conductor of Hereford Choral Society. Though small, Hull was a resilient man who survived four years as a prisoner of war in Germany. He also made a remarkable recovery from serious illness in time for the 1933 festival; always in a hurry, he was typically busy throughout. One of the highlights of his own week was conducting the performance of Bach’s B Minor mass. He was to be knighted for his services to music in 1947, and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5 is dedicated to him. Like Carice Elgar, Percy Hull remembered Elgar as the “life and soul” of that Three Choirs Festival in September.
For several generations of Hereford Cathedral schoolboys the name “Hull” would live on in the cross country running course up the Wye riverbank and back along the lanes of Breinton which Elgar enjoyed cycling. Michael Morris goes on to say “My mother was a Chorus member and she and I followed Elgar and his daughter along King Street and through St. Nicholas Street, past the turning to Friar Street and to the second house on the right in Barton Road normally occupied by Mrs Gibbs, a shorthand and typewriting teacher. She had vacated the house and let it to Sir Edward, his daughter Carice and friends.”
Our town, riverside and country lane walk returns in harmony with this route, and part of the “Hull” course. Early on, we pass a spot heralded by a statue of Dan the Bulldog. It was here that Dr. George Robertson Sinclair’s constant companion fell into the river when walking with Elgar, a happening interpreted for posterity by Enigma Variation No. 11; less noted, it was on the opposite bank, below Quay House, that Elgar’s friend and “bodyguard” Canon Gorton slipped into the river in his bath chair in 1912. If he’d still been around in 1933, he would probably have stopped a starry-eyed youngster getting Elgar’s autograph outside those lodgings in Barton Road.
Sir Edward Elgar died five months after the festival. Michael Morris, who spent 53 years in the Three Choirs Festival choir, had fond memories of the man wielding the wand of his own youth. And in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on 17th April, 2021, “Nimrod”, Enigma Variation No. 9 was played at the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, giving further witness to the composer’s longevity of appeal.
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