Elgar was invited to performances across Europe and America many times, and was feted wherever he went. Yet despite being knighted in 1904, Elgar really just wanted to be left alone to get on with his writing. How ironic that at the very time that Elgar was feeling depressed and uncertain, from 1900 to 1914, the public considered those years to be his golden, creative era.
Brinkwells Cottage in Fittleworth
Classical Music Blog noted Elgar’s prestigious academic appointments, his many overseas trips and the increasing fees from his performances, but said that fame came at a cost. His new life as a celebrity often provoked ill-health from his high-strung nature and interrupted his privacy. Despite his large house in Hampstead, Elgar needed to escape from his exhausting personal schedule and the misery of post-war London.
And he needed to be out of the city. In earlier part of his life, Elgar had found the peace and quiet of the countryside, its views, sounds and smells, to be inspiring.
Sir Edward Elgar,
country gent, 1905
I personally think it was Alice Elgar who said to her husband “Eddy darling, are you trying to kill yourself with overwork and depression? Let us go to somewhere quieter and greener, a place where noone will find you”. In either case Elgar fell in love with Brinkwells the first day he saw it and rented the secluded thatched cottage in its rustic woodland setting as a country retreat from 1917 to 1920. The cottage was owned by the landscape artist Rex Vicat Cole.
The agent for the cottage reminds visitors that in 1929, Elgar’s music studio was moved up the hill to its present location at Bedham, a small hamlet in an area of totally unspoilt beech woodland. In 1949, long after Elgar’s death, the studio was increased in size.
Swan Inn in Fittleworth
During his lifetime, Elgar lived in dozens of residences. And this does not include the houses of close friends where he could stay at as a house guest, sometimes for months on end. People interested in examining Elgar's choices in homes, gardens and decorative arts would love The Elgar Trail. It suggests that Edward Elgar was a restless soul.
Two recent connections with Brinkwells that the reader might like to consider. Firstly the 1996 film, Elgar's Tenth Muse: the Life of an English Composer starring James Fox, was filmed on location at Fittleworth.
Secondly a book by Carol Fitzgerald and Brian W Harvey called Elgar, Vicat Cole and the Ghosts of Brinkwells, was published by Phillimore in 2007. The authors show that Elgar rented the cottage from the artist Rex Vicat Cole who had enlisted during WW1. Elgar used the artist's studio as a music room and composed surrounded by his canvases and drawings.
The authors suggest that by looking closely at the profound influence of a time, place, and key people during a chapter of a composer’s life, one will gain a better understanding of his music from that period. Elgar certainly respected Rex Vicat Cole's work and the two men were united in their deep love and understanding of the woods that surrounded the cottage. The enchantment of Brinkwells was as evident in Cole's paintings as it was in Elgar's music.