What has Elgar to do with my fishing diary ? He was a keen fisherman and fished at Little Bognor while living at Brinkwells, a cottage less than a mile from the lakes through the woods and across the fields. Brinkwells is just north of Fittleworth with a view of the Arun valley and the South Downs. On my many visits to Little Bognor I have often wondered if the mature Beech woods and the sheltered lakes inspired his music.
Edward Elgar was born on 2 June 1857. He married Alice on 8 May 1889 and their only child, Carice, was born on 14 August 1890. On 2 May 1917 Alice and Carice went to Fittleworth to see a cottage. They walked to the cottage from the Inn. Alice recorded in her diary “Lovely place, sat in lovely wood and heard a nightingale, turtle doves and many other birds. Saw lizards and heard Cuckoo first time. Also saw swallows, lovely hot day. Much perplexed as cottage is so very cottagy but large studio and lovely view and woods, dear place. Finally took it for June. Lovely walk through woods and by primroses to Station”. At the time Fittleworth had its own railway station on the line from Petworth to Midhurst.
In May 1918, the Elgar family returned to Brinkwells. Edward was recovering from having his tonsils removed. In August, he had one of his pianos installed at Brinkwells. The day after the piano arrived, he set to work on a sonata for violin and piano. Alice noticed at once that it was different from anything he had written before. She called it “wood magic … so delicate and elusive.” Elgar completed the sonata within weeks and in Adrian Boult’s words, “a new note of fantasy, of freedom and of economy” had come into Elgar’s music.
While living at Brinkwells Elgar recovered his strength and in 1918 and 1919 he produced four large-scale works. The first three of these were chamber pieces: the Violin Sonata in E minor, the Piano Quintet in A minor and the String Quartet in E minor. On hearing the work in progress, Alice Elgar wrote in her diary, “E. writing wonderful new music“. After the Premieres of the three pieces in the Spring of 1919, he began to write a cello concerto. His Cello Concerto in E Minor, Opus 85, is a sombre work, reflecting the sorrows faced by England at the end of World War I. It had its Première on 27 October 1919 with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was a disaster because Elgar and the performers had been deprived of adequate rehearsal time. The critics trashed it, politely. His music went out of fashion and wasn’t revived until the 1960’s.
Elgar’s map of Brinkwells
Elgar’s greatest music is regarded as quintessentially English. That is not surprising. He was an English country gentleman with appropriate hobbies. He was a cyclist, nature lover, fisherman, golfer and was keen on horse racing. Betting not riding. He fished in his native Herefordshire and Sussex. One of his favourite spots was close to Mordiford Bridge on the River Lugg. He fished on the River Teme where he gained inspiration for The Music Makers and other sections of his symphonies. In one of his notebooks he wrote “Mem: four trout (decent) three (small) put back”. It’s good to know he released fish, he was ahead of his time as most fish were killed for the table. Elgar left Brinkwells in August 1921.
Elgar loved the countryside and the rural surroundings helped his recovery. I am convinced that some of his music was inspired by the woods, birds and animals that he saw while walking his dog or fishing at Little Bognor.