Keepin’ It Classy…Composition #14/50: Enigma Variations, Op.36, No. 9 “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar.

These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.

HRH Queen Elizabeth. This was her official portrait taken in honour of her 70th year as Queen of England.

As a blogger, I try my best to stay one day ahead when it comes to publishing the content that you get to read. As a result, I spent yesterday morning creating the latest post in my Reader’s Choice series. When I was finished, the post was completed and all that was left for me to do was to hit the “Publish” button this morning and the post would have gone live as intended. At the time I was writing yesterday’s post, I had no idea that someone’s 96 year old Granny was on her deathbed halfway across the world. But, after having a bit of lunch and a spot of hot tea, I learned, what the world soon learned, that Queen Elizabeth had passed away. No matter what opinion one holds of Queen Elizabeth or of the British Monarchy, in general, her passing is big news. It dwarfs much of what is in the current news cycle at this moment. It certainly made what I had written yesterday seem irrelevant…at least in terms of publishing it in the midst of all this sadness and uproar caused by the Queen’s death. So, instead of simply hitting the “Publish” button this morning as I had intended, I am, instead, creating a whole new post for today because there is certainly lots to say about Elizabeth of Windsor, her impact and her legacy. So, for those keeping track, I will publish the Reader’s Choice post on Monday and am publishing a new post for Keepin’ It Classy today (which is Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 as I write).

Like most people reading this post, Queen Elizabeth has been the only Queen I have known in my lifetime. Prime Ministers and Presidents have come and gone but for seventy years, she has occupied the throne of England. Her longevity merits applause. When she was first crowned as Queen, she promised to devote her entire life to public service. That she has done. Queen Elizabeth began fulfilling that promise by working as a mechanic during WWII. In the passing years, she has gone on to head up hundreds and hundreds of charities and other organizations whose mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I grew up in a home in which the example of service before self was viewed as a great virtue. My mother, in particular, always devoted herself to the care of others as a registered nurse and then, after retirement, as someone who helped out in Seniors homes as well as in her church. I followed her lead by becoming a school teacher. Helping children and their families was a tremendous source of satisfaction and pride to me. So, when the news of Queen Elizabeth’s passing first became known, my initial thought was for my mother and those of her generation who placed so much emphasis on helping others based upon the Queen’s own example. Further to this, one of our family’s most steadfast traditions at Christmas time was to gather round the television at some point during the day and listen to the annual “Queen’s Christmas Message” from Buckingham Palace. It brought my family a great sense of peace to hear her speak and to know that she was present at the helm. The simple fact that she lived and was so steady a public presence for all of these years is much of what made her so important to ordinary folks like us. The political winds may have blown this way or that but the Queen was unwavering and steadfast and resolute in her demeanour. As long as she was there, our world would be alright. And now she is gone. A foundational pillar has been removed by death and the world seems a little shakier this day than it was before.

However, any sadness or trepidation that I may feel this morning is counterbalanced by an understanding that the legacy of Elizabeth of Windsor is complicated, at best. While there were many public declarations of sadness and grief from around the world, there were also many declarations of glee and exultation that she was finally dead. For as much as the Queen may have represented a sense of stability and calm to many of us she, also, represented oppression and privilege to many others around the world, too. Apparently there were fireworks and dancing in the streets of places such as Northern Ireland, a nation whose entire history is coloured red from the seemingly endless amount of blood spilled in conflicts with England (of which the Queen was head). Many countries in Africa celebrated the demise of a foreign ruler whose territorial ambitions caused untold hardship and deprivation to the local Indigenous populations. Even a country such as Jamaica is preparing lawsuits, as you read these words, against the British Crown for reparations for the slave trade a century ago. Part of the back story to the song, “No Woman, No Cry” by the great Bob Marley has to do with the consequences of British empire building upon the Jamaican population. *(You can read that post here). Finally, there are many younger people who have watched how the institution of the Monarchy reacted to the presence of strong young, intelligent, vibrant women such as Princess Diana and Meghan Markle. That they were expected to stand quietly by and temper their own enthusiasms rankled many modern women who took the view that Queen Elizabeth was a relic from a bygone era and that her demise may be what was necessary to start the modernization of the Monarchy that is needed if it is to remain relevant in an ever changing world.

Sir Edward Elgar…composer of the Enigma Variations.

I am sure that the debate over Queen Elizabeth’s legacy will rage on over the course of the next few days and weeks. However, my greater sense is that much of the politics of remembrance will give way to pageantry in the end. The British are known for many things and one of them is how to put on a good public show…whether that be for Royal weddings, funerals or coronations. So, I am predicting that the funeral for Queen Elizabeth will end up being one of the top stories from the year 2022. It will be a spectacle of emotion and expense. I also predict, with great certainty, that the Queen’s funeral will have a playlist and that one of the pieces of music on this playlist will be “Nimrod”, Variation No. 9 of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations Suite. There are many who state that, after the anthemic notes of “God Save the Queen/King”, which is England’s national anthem, the most patriotic English composition in history is “Nimrod” by Elgar. So, let’s talk a bit about Elgar’s Enigma Variations and why Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” is viewed as being so special.

One of the many examples of correspondence between Elgar and Jaeger regarding the Enigma Variations suite.

Edward Elgar is viewed as being the greatest English composer of all time. I wrote about him when we discussed his other great work, “Pomp and Circumstance”. *(You can read that post here). All throughout his life, Edward Elgar was plagued by periods of depression and self-loathing. One of the factors that helped to elevate him in the ranks of the great composers in history, besides talent, was that he was surrounded by a wonderful network of family and friends who all did a tremendous job at keeping his spirits up and helping Elgar to remain productive and to recognize the merit of the work he was creating. Edward Elgar, to his credit, understood who he was and how valuable his support network was to him in his career and in his personal life. So, in gratitude he created a suite of music that has become known as the Enigma Variations. There are fourteen individual variations that make up the entire suite. Each Variation is based upon some aspect of someone who was important to Elgar in his life. The tone of each dedicated variation was created to reflect some aspect of the relationship Elgar had with that individual person…some variations are more upbeat, some are more serious, some are romantic and so on. Variation No. 9 was dedicated to his long-time musical mentor and publisher, Auguste J. Jaeger. It was Jaeger, as much as anyone else, who was responsible for constantly reminding Elgar that he had worth as a composer and that his compositions were the equal of his heroes such as Beethoven. Jaeger was also one of Elgar’s most honest critics, often challenging him to work harder, to be better and to polish his work to an even finer edge. Edward Elgar came to rely on and appreciate Jaeger’s counsel. Thus, for Jaeger’s variation, Elgar created a soaring piece of music that is characterized by a consistent and steady musical structure, around which other chords rise and fall, building into a crescendo of fervor that never fails but to arouse an emotional response in the listener. Elgar entitled Jaeger’s variation as being “Nimrod” because, in German, the word Jager means “hunter” and in the Old Testament, the term “Nimrod” means mighty hunter before The Lord. When Elgar released his entire Enigma Variations suite, it was met with much approval from music critics, as well as from ordinary citizens. In time, Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” became the most popular of the variations. It has been performed at many prominent national events in England such as at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the funerals of Princess Diana and Prince Phillip, as well, “Nimrod” is played each year at the London Cenotaph to honour those who gave their lives in the many wars in which England has fought. Thus, I feel relatively safe in predicting that “Nimrod” will be played at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, too. It is just seems like such a British thing to do.

I have to be honest and admit that I am not overly sad about Queen Elizabeth passing away. Like anyone in her situation, I do feel a sense of sympathy for her family members for which she was not their Monarch but, instead, was their mother or grandmother. I am sure that her corgis are wondering where she is as well. But, more than anything, I am somewhat anxious as to what the future holds for England. Even though I live in Canada, what happens in places like England and France and the United States affects us. We are countries built upon a foundation of western democratic principles. As we have already witnessed under Donald Trump’s tenure at the helm of the US, the ripple effects of political instability in the land of any of our allies ends up washing up upon our shores, too. So, in the case of England, I wonder what the political fallout will be from the leadership vacuum her death represents. One thing that I do know is that King Charles has huge shoes to fill. I sincerely hope that he assumes his place at the head of the monarchy with much confidence and helps to inspire a nation and a Commonwealth to move forward with common purpose. One thing I am sad for is that Queen Elizabeth’s death removes one more female role model from the world’s stage. Do we really need another old white man in a position of authority? In any case, the immediate future will unfold in a very scripted manner, according to the formal government plans announced yesterday. There will be much time set aside for reflection and for public mourning. Her funeral will take place a week or so from now. In that time, I believe that Elgar’s Enigma Variation, Op. 36, No. 9. “Nimrod” will have a prominent airing and will come to be the anthem of her passing. So please take a moment to click on the link at the bottom of this post and listen to “Nimrod” for yourself so that you will recognize it when you hear it played live in the days and weeks to come in London. As you listen to it playing, know that it was written for someone who was viewed as being a true and resolute friend to the composer. Now that same thematic quality will be applied to the Queen of all of England and the Commonwealth of countries, too. Regardless of the politics of the moment, I wish the Queen’s family peace and I wish her a joyous, relaxed reunion with her husband and all of the corgis who went before her.

The link to the video for the composition, Enigma Variations, Op. 36, No. 9, “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar can be found here.

“Nimrod” was used to great effect in the closing scene of the recent movie, Dunkirk. This score, in combination with Winston Churchill’s “Never Surrender” speech are part of the fabric of British history. The link to the video for this scene can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Royal Family can be found here. ***You may sign a Book of Condolence via this website.

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