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Sir Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar's Salut d'amour is something of an oddity amongst nineteenth century salon music tidbits. Whereas most such pieces were originally composed for piano solo and then rearranged, usually by persons other than the composer, for all kinds of other instrumental combinations, Salut d'amour was first a piece for violin and piano and only later rearranged for piano solo. But, as it was Elgar himself who did the rearranging (and also the orchestration when it came time to make a version for the symphony hall), there is interest in this second-thought piano version that might not normally be taken in such an after-the-fact arrangement.

Elgar composed Salut d'amour in 1888 for himself and his student, Caroline Alice Roberts (later, not coincidentally, Mrs. Edward Elgar) to play together -- she on piano, he on violin. It was Elgar's original wish that the piece be published with the title Liebesgrüss (which in German means essentially the same thing as Salut d'amour: Love's Greeting); but his publishers, though a German company asked that a French title be substituted, and in 1888 Elgar hardly had the clout to argue. He was happy just to receive a few pounds for the piece. Salut d'amour was immediately very successful in both the violin/piano and piano solo versions (and, a little while later, the cello/piano, viola/piano, flute/piano, voice/piano, and everything else/piano versions that popped up), and Elgar made decent money from it for decades.

In making the piano arrangement, Elgar transposed the music up from the original key of D major to E major. Otherwise the piece remains basically unchanged. It is a breezy Allegretto in three-part song form throughout, with a syncopated accompaniment rhythm bobbing underneath the melody. The opening tune is one of the sweetest little melodies imaginable (which is the main ingredient of Salut d'amour's century-and-a-quarter's worth of fame); it gently dips down a sixth and then back up again at the start of each phraselet. The music of the central section is built entirely from the kind of long-short-short dactylic rhythm that Schubert loved so much.

In the original violin and piano version of the piece, a pleasant imitative countermelody is added at the reprise of the opening music midway through the piece. Elgar kept this interest-building countermelody in his original solo piano version; but somewhere between his desk and the printing press it disappeared. It was not the only simplification made by his publishers: throughout the original edition of the solo piano version, the textures are thinner than Elgar wrote them, and during the little codetta that closes the piece, the important rising chromatic line (originally in the violin) is tragically absent. Happily, though, more recent editions of the solo piano version have restored, at least optionally, this missing material, allowing for a more taxing but much more wholesome reading.

-- Blair Johnston, All Music Guide