Letter : Elgar's symphonic sketches deserve a hearing

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The Independent Online
Sir: Raymond Monk (Letters, 1 March) as senior trustee of the Elgar Foundation, writes that the document setting out the conditions on which the BBC accepted the sketches of the Third Symphony is a "sacred trust". That document stated that the sketches should never be published: yet a large proportion of them subsequently were, by W. H. Reed, the very person to whom Elgar had confided his wish that no one should "tinker with it". So if the document's validity was breached so soon after Elgar's death one of the main planks of his argument against any attempt at "reconstructing" the symphony is gone.

But why is Mr Monk, like many others, so adamant about Elgar's supposed last wishes, uttered in a fit of despair? Reed, after all, did not do as Elgar asked and burn the sketches; while Elgar himself is also recorded as having said, "if I can't complete the Third Symphony, somebody will complete it". And somebody undoubtedly will: if not now, then at a future time, when Elgar's trustees will be a distant memory.

Far better to let what remains of the symphony be heard - freely admitting that it will not be as Elgar would have completed it - while the tradition of his music is still relatively close to us. We can be grateful that Mozart had no trustees to prevent completion of the Requiem, or Puccini those who would have suppressed Turandot. (I speak as a trustee of two other great English composers, Holst and Britten).

For better or worse, the symphony's sketches have survived. Out of a misplaced sense of morality Mr Monk would have them reserved only for musicologists, a tiny minority compared to those who cannot decipher the manuscript for themselves and need someone - and who better than another composer, Anthony Payne - to be their guide.

Yours sincerely,

COLIN MATTHEWS

London, SW11

2 March

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