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Beau Brummel — Elgar’s Lost Masterpiece

In 1928 Elgar was asked by the actor-manager Gerald Lawrence to provide incidental music for a new play entitled Beau Brummel, written by Bertram P. Matthews, in which Lawrence was to play the starring rôle. Elgar obliged, although he had by that time virtually given up composition, and the play was premiered at the Theatre Royal in Birmingham on 5th November 1928. Elgar himself conducted the orchestra on the First Night.

One short excerpt from the score, the Beau Brummel Minuet (this is published by Acuta Music : click here for details), was published in 1929, but the rest of the music subsequently vanished. The playscript was also never published, but fortunately the typewritten original survives in the British Library. This playscript, newly typeset including editorial commentary and an introductory essay (PDF, total 89 pages), can be downloaded by clicking on the lower of the two links above. A further article (PDF, 11 pages), giving complete details of the play’s run and including additional biographical information about Gerald Lawrence, can be downloaded by clicking on the upper link. The main information regarding the mystery of the lost music is contained in three articles in the Elgar Society Journal (see below).

Until 2011, virtually no effective research on Beau Brummel had been carried out by Elgar scholars. It was believed that the play had only been performed in Birmingham, and that the incidental music consisted of the Minuet and little else. Searches for the lost music were carried out in Birmingham but with no success.

In December 2011 an article setting out all the hitherto unknown facts about Beau Brummel appeared in the Elgar Society Journal (to view the December 2011 issue go to www.elgarsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Vol.-17-No.-3-December-2011-Compressed.pdf). A summary of the most plausible hypothesis for the disappearance of the music appears in the Elgar Society Journal for April 2016 (www.elgarsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ESJ-Apr-2016-final-1.pdf) with a further suggestion for the disappearance in the issue for December 2020 (www.elgarsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ESJ-December-2020-final-for-web.pdf). These articles revealed for the first time that :

(i) The play had not only been performed in Birmingham but had subsequently gone on tour both in the UK and in South Africa (so searches in Birmingham had been doomed to failure from the start).

(ii) Contemporary newspaper reports indicated that the music was at least as extensive and resourceful as had been Elgar’s previous incidental music, for the play Arthur (this is available from Acuta Music in a concert score entitled King Arthur Suite — click here for details). The reviews implied that the music was memorable and of high quality.

(iii) The full score would have been at least 100 pages long, possibly as much as 200.

In contrast to previous received opinions about the Beau Brummel music — that it was a minor piece, of which the Minuet was the main component — the 2011 investigations suggest that Elgar’s score was a significant work, possibly with crucial implications for his later compositional technique and output. Newspaper reports seem to indicate that it was similar to a film score, where music plays continuously underneath the dialogue and by the use of musical motifs comments on and amplifies the stage action.

The question today is : what happened to the music?

It appears that Elgar allowed Gerald Lawrence to keep the performing materials, consisting of the orchestral parts and a piano-conductor score (probably in Elgar’s own handwriting). The chances of these materials having survived are fairly remote (Lawrence died in 1957 and, since Beau Brummel’s creation, had lived in three residences in Hampstead (London) and also in Exmouth (Devon)) but they could have been passed on by him to his daughter (the well-known actress Joyce Carey (d.1993)), his third wife (actress Madge Compton, real name Madge Mussared (d.1969)) or any other member of his family.

As regards the full score (which would also have been an Elgar original manuscript), it is fairly certain that Elgar was in possession of this around 1930, but it had gone by the time of his death in 1934. Elgar is known to have given the Arthur incidental music to the conductor Joseph Lewis (d.1954) : Lewis was Professor of Conducting at the Guildhall School of Music. Possibly Elgar also gave Lewis the Beau Brummel score, and it could then have been passed on to another Guildhall colleague or pupil.

The score is more likely, however, to have been given away for some commercial purpose such as publication. Elgar had many professional friends and contacts, and the Beau Brummel score could have been given to any one of them, maybe with a request for that person to make it into a performable concert Suite. Elgar perhaps intended to recycle the Beau Brummel music into other projects (as he did with Arthur) and may have destroyed it to cover his tracks (he did not destroy the Arthur score although the latter’s whereabouts remained unknown until 1973). A third possibility, expounded in the December 2020 Elgar Society Journal, is that the full score was given to a film company for whom Elgar in late 1933 was engaged to write a movie score, but was prevented from doing so by Illness. This last possibility seems the most plausible, taking all available evidence into account.

 

The chance of the full score still surviving, although slim, must be counted as slightly better than that for the orchestral parts.

It is possible that the Beau Brummel materials, comprising full score and/or orchestral parts and piano-conductor score, still exist. If they do, they are probably now in the hands of non-musicians (the descendants of the original protagonists) and their artistic significance (as containing hitherto unknown music by the mature Elgar) — quite apart from their very considerable financial value — may not be recognised by their current owners.

The foregoing article © Copyright 2012, 2021 by R.H.Kay. May be quoted so long as copyright is acknowledged.

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