Elgar and the shame of the Bank of England

One of my favourite public monuments is the splendid statue in Hereford of, the great and sublime English composer Edward Elgar propped up against his bicycle gazing at the sky in romantic contemplation of, we are led to assume, the glories of the English countryside that he was so fond of visiting on his epic cycle rides through Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.

It is a fitting memorial especially as today, shamefully, marks the official withdrawal from circulation of the £20 note that is illustrated with his portrait.

Well what do you expect from a philistine political and economic elite who see it as unimportant to honour the England’s greatest composer and have chosen to replace him with the image of the great but less than sublime Scottish economist Adam Smith.

Shame on you England for this act of betrayal.

Elgar, of course would not have been surprized by the demotion. For all his fame as the man who gave the World Land of Hope and Glory, he was a very private and sensitive individual, alert to the latent snobbery and ignorance of the English upper classes.

He loathed the jingoistic words that were added to his wonderful theme and flinched from its popularity as a rousing war song when millions were dying in the trenches of the First World War. The real spirit of this man is not in militaristic nationalism but in a profound love of his own environment, his Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire in the heart of England. If you do not know the music, you will find his soul in the Introduction and Allegro for Strings, the Second Symphony and the two concertos, one for violin and the other for cello.

Luckily for us, his nobility of spirit and extreme sensitivity has other memorials beyond a withdrawn banknote and a cycling statue. His music will be played long after those nameless but misguided Bank of England officials have disappeared from this world.

There are also some poignant home movie clips of the old widowed Elgar with his dogs including the wonderful Springer Spaniel Marco. Notice too the evocative shots of the great man enjoying a cigarette in the days when you can enjoy such pleasures without guilt. I sometimes think, if he had been addicted to coffee, he would have represented nearly all of my passions.

So Edward Elgar, on this day of shame for the Bank Of England, we honour you and declare a national boycott of the new £20 note.


  1. Don't forget Nimrod. He would be honoured for that alone. It is one of those pieces of music that yells 'Englishness' – in the sense of rolling hills and haystacks rather than drunken footie fans.

  2. Yes, of course, Nimrod in the Enigma Variations is very moving especially in the context of the whole piece. I resisted a long list because there is so much wonderful music to discover if you don't know Elgar. I stick with my list as his greatest though!

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