Edward Elgar (1857–1934)
A setting of “Nimrod” from Elgar’s 1899 Enigma Variations,
arranged by John Cameron (1996)
“[Elgar’s] range is so Handelian that he can give the people a universal melody or march with as sure a hand as he can give the Philharmonic Society a symphonic adagio, such as has not been given since Beethoven died.”
— George Bernard Shaw
Music and Letters, January 1920
Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations — actually titled Variations on an Original Theme but known for Elgar’s initial marking (“Enigma: Andante”) — was his first major work to attract enthusiastic critical notice. It moved him to the forefront of British composers at the time. He was 42 years old.
There are 14 variations, each cryptically labeled for a friend, often by initials. “Nimrod,” the ninth variation, was for his friend August Jaeger, a music editor who had offered steady encouragement and frank criticism early in Elgar’s composing career. (Jäger is German for hunter; Nimrod was the Old Testament “mighty hunter before the Lord.”) It is easily the best known of the variations and is often played at solemn ceremonies. It was performed as an encore in November 2018 when the Providence Singers joined the Rhode Island Philharmonic for a concert celebrating the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
The music lends itself perfectly to Lux Aeterna, the Communion antiphon for the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. John Cameron’s eight-part choral arrangement is solemn and richly textured, preserving the enigmatic sonorities of Elgar’s composition. Cameron is well-known for his composition, orchestration, and arrangements in film (almost three dozen scores), musical theater (Les Misérables, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), and television, and has served as arranger or musical director for popular musical groups and artists including Donovan (Jennifer Juniper, Mellow Yellow).