Edward Elgar is known for his Enigma Variations, but the biggest enigma about him was probably the Spanish inscription he wrote at the head of his Violin Concerto score; "Aqui esta encerrada el alma de....." "Herein is enshrined the soul of....." with a space left blank for a five-letter name.

Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1909, Elgar was at the pinnacle of his career. Born into an English musical family, his father ran a music shop and served as a church organist. Elgar was largely self-taught and despite lacking any formal music education, he became a freelance musician by age 16. He married his wife, Alice Roberts, when he was 29 and she was 40. However, she was not the only Alice in his life.

Picture: Edward Elgar with his wife Alice Roberts

Elgar had a friend who he nicknamed ‘Windflower’, since she shared the first name, Alice, with his wife. He found the process of writing the Violin Concerto agonising at times; and Windflower was his confidante, supporting him when his energy was flagging. Elgar told her he was creating Windflower themes for the piece – the gentle second theme of the first movement is one of them. “I have been working hard at the Windflower themes, but all stands still until you come and approve!” he wrote to her.

Picture: Transcript of the Violin Concerto with Elgar’s signature

But Alice was not the only five-letter name in Elgar’s life. He was known for dedicating his music to friends, lovers and spirit animals. Perhaps it references Elgar’s first love, Helen Weaver, a young violinist to whom he had been engaged for several months, or the renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler who premiered the work. What about Elgar himself?  Although he was no virtuoso, the violin was Elgar’s own instrument. When he put the inscription, he knew full well how intrigued the public would be.

Picture: Edward Elgar around 1900. Photo by Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Despite its undeniable artistic merit, Elgar's Violin Concerto faced a lukewarm reception upon its premiere in 1910. Critics at the time found its structure unconventional and its emotional depth challenging. However, over the years, the concerto has earned its rightful place in the repertoire as a masterpiece of the early 20th century. In the end, perhaps the true beauty of Elgar's Violin Concerto lies not in unravelling its mysteries, but in embracing the wonder and awe it inspires.

Concertmaster Laurence Jackson will perform Elgar’s Violin Concerto this April under the baton of internationally renowned conductor Alpesh Chauhan, in his WASO podium debut.

Elgar’s Violin Concerto
Friday 26 & Saturday 27 April, 7.30pm
Perth Concert Hall