Britain’s music press marked the 2007 sesquicentenary of Sir Edward Elgar’s birth with a veritable orgy of remembrance, for which no previous event—certainly not the muted commemorations of Vaughan Williams’s centenary in 1972 or of Henry Purcell’s tercentenary in 1995—had prepared anyone. In England, at least, revering Elgar now seems as fashionable as reviling him once was, although the BBC chose to indulge in typical self-contradictory raving about “imperialistic doggerel” and “antediluvian Little Englishness.” Transcending such jabber are the two new books under review, though only one can be cordially recommended.

Elgar: An Extraordinary Life is the strangest musicological book since the late Ian McDonald released, in 1991, his New Shostakovich. J. P. E. Harper-Scott, a London academic, rather resembles a brilliant undergraduate who,...


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