Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Edward Elgar and Gerald Cumberland: Story of an interview in Manchester.

The writer Gerald Cumberland (Charles Frederick Kenyon) wrote a fine collection of anecdotes and reminiscences in his book Set down in Malice –which was published in 1919. Much of this book had been written down in the trenches in Salonika during 1918. The date of the meeting was most likely 2nd or 3rd December when Elgar was in Manchester for the first performance of his First Symphony at the Free Trade Hall. The work was played by the Halle Orchestra and conducted by Hans Richter.

My first meeting with Elgar was ten years ago [c.1908], when, being commissioned to interview him for a monthly musical magazine, I called on him at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, where he was staying for a night. On my way to his room I met him in the corridor, where he carefully explained that he had made it a strict rule never to be interviewed for the Press and that under no circumstances could that rule be broken. His firm words were spoken with hesitation, and it was quite obvious to me that he was feeling more than a trifle nervous. I have little doubt that this nervousness was due to the fact that in an hour's time he was to conduct a concert at the Free Trade Hall. However, he was kind enough to loiter for some minutes and talk, but he took care, when I left him, to remind me that nothing of what he had said to me must appear in print. I, of course, obeyed him, but, in place of an interview, I wrote an impressionistic sketch of the man as I had seen him during my few minutes' conversation at the Midland Hotel. Of this impressionistic sketch I remember nothing except that, in describing his general bearing and manner, I used the word "aristocratic." At this word Elgar rose like a fat trout eager to swallow a floating fly. It confirmed his own hopes. And I who had perceived this quality so speedily, so unerringly, and who had proclaimed it to the world, was worthy of reward. Yes; he would consent to be interviewed. The ban should be lifted...

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