Into His Marvelous Light

If someone says he enjoys "classical music," he probably doesn't mean to designate precisely the period that excludes the Baroque, Romantic, and Modern eras. Bach and Handel would make the cut, as would Brahms and Rachmaninoff, Wagner and Liszt, and many others. The creative careers of the most popular "classical music" composers stretch from the mid-seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries.

There aren't many (if any) American-born composers who would show up on this list. Neither are there many (if any) great English composers that one could include. In fact, it has often been remarked that after the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 (when J. S. Bach was only ten years old), no widely acclaimed composers were born in England until 1857.

That was the year that Ann Greening Elgar (daughter of a farm worker) and her husband William (a piano tuner and music-shop owner) welcomed their fourth child into their cottage in the village of Lower Broadheath in the West Midlands. They christened him Edward and had him baptized at St. George's Roman Catholic Church in Worcester. The Elgars were a very musical household, and Edward's father performed in the Worcester Glee Club and was organist at St. George's. From the age of fifteen, Edward served as his father's substitute when needed, later inheriting the post. And since Worcester was one of the sites hosting the prestigious Three Choirs Festival (an active institution since the early eighteenth century), the young Edward Elgar was exposed to choral works intended for large public—and non-liturgical—performance.

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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