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Classical Notes

Elgar's "Nimrod" Variation, Varied

Posted at 12:25 PM on July 10, 2012 by Emily Reese (1 Comments)

I'm currently watching The War, the 2007 documentary from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. As is generally the case with Burns' docs, the soundtrack is spectacular.

As I was watching the second episode, "When Things Get Tough," I heard a familiar melody underneath narrator Keith David.

I knew instantly it was a piano reduction, for when I turned my listening inward, I could hear the missing orchestral colors. It took me a few moments to recognize it as one of the most beautiful melodies from the tail-end of the 19th century: the 9th variation from Elgar's Enigma Variations, known as "Nimrod."

I couldn't concentrate on the narration and had to watch the scene three times (I still have no idea what Mr. David was saying). The reduction from orchestra to piano opened my eyes to a piece I already adored - a piece which already held personal significance.

The simplicity of the melody lays bare on the keyboard. One of the endearing qualities of "Nimrod" is its contrary motion - the interaction of the (in this case) left and right hands. This is not the recording used in The War, but you will get a fair enough idea of the expansion and contraction of this lovely melody from this video:

As is so often the case with great orchestral masterpieces of the world, Elgar concocted the initial melody on piano. It seems a natural progression (regression?) to hear "Nimrod" played as such, right?

Then find me a recording of it.

It seems that while Elgar did a complete piano reduction of the final orchestral score twice (once for solo piano, and once for two pianos/four hands), no one has yet recorded a single movement of it.

This seems insane to me. Perhaps the complete reduction is much too difficult for solo piano, or too difficult for two pianos, or the piece is too long (c. 30 minutes). None of these explanations sit right with me, and I hope to get to the bottom of it.

If you are feeling adventurous, try out the piano reduction for yourself here.


Comments (1)

Good to see you will be carrying a live stream of the BBC Proms. Its wonderful that BBC Radio 3 and MPR Classical continue their partnership.
Are you transmitting this stream to any other stations?

Posted by RICHARD DUMUGHN | July 13, 2012 1:11 PM