Friday, 18 April 2008

The Elgar "Debate"

Last month we mentioned Hugh Wood’s lively review of a clutch of Elgar titles in the Times Literary Supplement. Wood noted that “the skies have darkened with flocks of celebratory books coming home to roost” but was kind to Diana McVeagh’s Elgar the Music Maker, our own contribution to the flock. His extended piece on the five titles ranged broadly, taking in a spirited defence of Anthony Payne’s reconstruction of Elgar’s Third Symphony and some possibly barbed remarks about New Musicologists along the way.

Since then there has been a frank exchange of views, as they say, on the letters pages of the TLS. Under the heading Elgar and Schenker in the April 4th issue, three correspondents took issue with Mr Wood, one even referring to him as Basil Fawlty. Richard F Taruskin accused him of “insularity, anti-intellectualism, know-it-all complacency, proud ignorance, [and] blimpish spite”. This could not be ignored, of course, and Hugh Wood was allowed to respond to what he saw as Taruskin’s “random, all-purpose, indiscriminate abuse” with an amusing letter in the 18th April issue.

Somewhere amongst the smoke and cordite stands Elgar, as two online correspondents have already pointed out (“Critics can be safely ignored,” offered a gentleman from New Zealand). However, Wood was always going to write an interesting and provocative article, as anyone who has read the recently-published collection of his writings (including some earlier TLS reviews), Staking Out the Territory, will know. This one could run and run…

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