Piece: Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36
Composer: Edward Elgar
Premier: June 19, 1899, London
Elgar wrote his masterpiece, better-known to the masses as Enigma Variations, just as he was on the verge of giving up as a composer. As noted in the title, he wrote the theme himself, then set the variations as dedications to his friends and loved ones, including both his wife and a friend's dog. The star of the show is "Nimrod," dedicated to his friend Augustus J. Jaeger, a music editor. Elgar valued Jaeger for his willingness to offer severe criticism when necessary. Jäger is German for hunter and Nimrod was a mighty hunter in the Old Testament.
The piece is knock-your-socks-off stunning and we've had the great pleasure of hearing it live twice in the past year, once by the VSO and once by a youth orchestra. At the youth orchestra concert, there was an older gentlemen sitting behind me who couldn't see the stage well and also clearly didn't have much experience at classical music concerts. His daughter (I assume) was offering explanations and descriptions between pieces. But he understood "Nimrod" just fine. After it was over, I heard him whisper simply, "Wow!"
Side story: have you ever wondered how the name of a mighty hunter came to be an insult? It's all Daffy Duck's fault (thanks, Mock!):
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Enjoy: A Window Above
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