EDWARD ELGAR (1857-1934)
Serenade in E minor for String Orchestra, Op. 20 (1892)
Allegro piacevole

There are many jokes based on national characteristics, or rather on the common perception of these characteristics. There was the German engineer, French cook, Swiss banker and Italian lover who switched hats, and ended up being the German cook, Italian banker, French engineer, and Swiss lover. And the like. With the globalization of our lives these days, and "political correctness" keeping us on our toes, these jokes are perhaps not as cute as we once thought they were, but still, certain combinations do look more befitting than the others.

Now, if one had to attach the adjective "romantic" to a certain nation, where would one start? And how far down the list would Great Britain would be? Lord Byron and Princess Di did wonders to romanticize the English, but still, the emotional attributes of what is associated with romanticism and "Briticism" probably do not go hand in hand. Or so I thought.

To account for my impression of the Brits, I suspect that in my youth there were just too many English jokes and too little British music. (For some reason, I never thought of Beatles as being British or anybody else. There were just the Beatles, the most romantic pop band on the earth). But, then I heard the music of Elgar. Its rich expressiveness and scope of emotions put everything right. However, the misconceptions of my adolescence did come in handy many years later, when I first began working on Elgar's Serenade in E minor. From the first reading, the first movement felt comfortable, the second movement was utterly captivating and my affection for it only grew stronger with time. The opening of the third movement did not work. It felt too understated and very illusive, a real letdown after such a gorgeous second movement. Many tries later, a funny thought visited me - could it be that Sir Edward (although at the time the Serenade was written he had not been knighted yet) felt a bit embarrassed about the emotional outburst of the second movement, as if saying at the beginning of the third "Sorry, I didn't really mean to disrobe my soul so much ...". As far away from the composer's intended approach as this may be, it did work for me very well at the time. And still does.