Ok 71dB I need your help appreciating the two Elgar symphonies. Aside from the beginning of his 1st movt. in his 1st symphony, I am almost completely lost in his music. I can't stay on track, it all makes no sense musically to me. Even Bruckner sounds more logical to me comparing to Elgar.
So in order to appreciate him, what should I listen for? (e.g. brass chorales for Bruckner, off-stage brass and fanfares for Mahler, etc)
I appreciate you are curious about these symphonies and want to understand them better. They are not easy to get imo but I'd say once they become familiar to you and you undertand Elgar's musical thinking better they become very logical.
The key imo to understand Elgar is the fact he composed sounds
rather than notes
. If you play Elgar's (orchestral) themes on piano they sound less promising but played on orchestra they sound fantastic. You can't separate Elgar's melodies, harmonies etc. from the orchestral timbre. That's why analyse of his scores do not reveal everything essential in Elgar's art. He was a self-taught composer who used music theory in subordinate way to achieve as good sounding
music as possible.
I am not capable of full musical analyse of scores but to me Elgar's thematic material seems to be longer than that of many other composers. He uses rather long melodies and motivs to construct the music. These long building blocks overlap in sophisticated ways I admire a lot. I suppose this overlapping is Elgar's version of "fugal writing" in late romantic style. After all, he was heavily influenced by the music of J. S. Bach and Händel (he wanted to became a violinist after hearing a perfomance of The Messiah at the age of 12).
In quiet passages in Elgar's music are not thin which I also like. The sound of woodwinds is thin because of the spectral stucture. Elgar avoids situations where only one woodwind instrument is playing something. He uses woodwinds skillfully to color his music. Elgar was a violinist and strings are the foundation of his music, other instruments mere complete the orchestral colors.
Elgar's music is unique. I find similar orchestral thinking in Bruckner and creativity in Nielsen. I call it relative music. The meaning of every note and musical structure is defined by other notes. You take something away and the whole perfect structure falls apart, loses it's meaning. Oboe starts playing because the last 5 minutes have sonically repaired you to want the sound of oboe. Try to see this analysing the score! If you take those few notes played with oboe away the meaning of the previous 5 minutes is compromised.
In a way Elgar's music is also very easy to understand because he is a straight-to-the-point composer. The music tries to strike your mind and heart directly with the way it sounds. Clearly the 1st movement of his 1st symphony does just that to you. I hope in time rest of his music has the same effect.