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Elgar's Earnings

Elgar's Earnings

John Drysdale
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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    Elgar's Earnings
    Book Description:

    The late nineteenth century was a propitious time for British composers. But while the demand from music publishers for their works grew substantially, the copyright and royalty terms were such that even successful composers could not achieve the levels of earnings enjoyed by other creative artists such as authors, painters and dramatists. However, in the early twentieth century, new sources of earnings emerged, notably performing fees, broadcasting fees and royalties from record sales. Unlike other leading contemporary British composers, who also held prestigious, salaried positions, Elgar was, by his own volition, a freelance composer who relied entirely on the precarious earnings from his works, supplemented by conducting fees and a brief tenure at Birmingham University. As a result, although Elgar achieved fame, status and recognition in his lifetime, both nationally and internationally, his earnings did not match the standard of living to which he aspired. This lack of money, exacerbated by too much expenditure, was a constant source of worry, complaint and frustration to Elgar, even though he had become a beneficiary from the new sources of income in the twentieth century. Elgar's Earnings investigates whether Elgar's complaints about a lack of money can be justified by the facts. Drawing on hitherto neglected primary sources, especially the Novello Business Archive, John Drysdale examines the relatively poor terms offered by music publishers to composers of serious music in general and Elgar in particular and explores the reasons why successful painters and authors, such as G. B. Shaw, could obtain much better terms. This comparative analysis enriches our understanding of the economic and social forces at work in nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain and shows how Elgar, despite his insecure financial position, helped to establish the profession of the English composer, to the lasting benefit of future generations. JOHN DRYSDALE is a musicologist and former investment banker.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-123-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    As has been well documented in many books and articles on his life, Elgar always resented his upbringing as a lower middle class, provincial Roman Catholic, whose family had been in trade.¹ ‘Yet he still regarded himself as an outsider and looked back on his early struggles not with self-satisfaction but with bitterness.’² Indeed, his marriage to the daughter of an East India Company major-general added further complexities. With some well-known exceptions, the Worcestershire landed gentry and upper-class Imperial families would have seen the musician Elgar as an effete, somewhat suspect, outsider. August Jaeger, himself an outsider who had arrived...

  5. 1 Opportunities for British Composers
    (pp. 9-27)

    The latter half of the nineteenth century was highly favourable to British composers of church services, canticles, anthems and hymns; of sacred and secular oratorios and cantatas; and of part-songs and orchestral works. Elgar was born in 1857, and as a contemporary British composer he could, on the face of it, establish himself at music festivals and with choral societies as they would be more prepared to commission and perform his works, especially the oratorios and cantatas. A number of general factors – economic, social, religious and political – played their part in creating this encouraging background.

    The 1871 Census...

  6. 2 Authors, Painters and Composers
    (pp. 28-55)

    As the nineteenth century progressed, successful authors could earn substantial sums. There was a great demand for the works of contemporary British novelists and the market responded to this in a flexible and effective manner. The distribution channels widened and literary agents came between authors and publishers to improve their clients’ negotiating power. With wealth came status and respectability and an entry into polite society. While authors never came together to create a profession which insisted on entry qualifications, like the Church, law and medicine, they did join together to enhance their economic interests through The Society of Authors.


  7. 3 Novello and the Music Publishing Business
    (pp. 56-79)

    By the time Novello came to publish Elgar’s works, the firm had established a pre-eminent position in its chosen market.¹ This was as a result of certain key business decisions which were initially taken by Vincent Novello and then carried on by his son Alfred, who managed the business from 1830 onwards. These decisions were then built upon by Henry Littleton and his sons, Alfred and Augustus, after the business had been bought in the early 1860s.

    The first key decision was to identify the growing demand by amateur performers for the sheet music of sacred and secular works, for...

  8. 4 Novello, Royalties and Copyrights to 1914 and the 1904 Royalty Agreement
    (pp. 80-108)

    This was a period when a struggling, relatively unknown composer began his association with a major music publisher. It is informative of the market for music in those times and of the way in which a music publisher reacted to a composer’s increasing reputation. The copyrights earned by Elgar over this period have already been researched,¹ but the Royalty and Copyright Records throw an entirely new light on Elgar’s success, or otherwise, in also earning royalties from his works. How much did Elgar earn in total from Novello over this period? On the face of it, the sum was £393...

  9. 5 Novello, Royalties and Copyrights 1914 to 1934 and other Music Publishers
    (pp. 109-127)

    Inflation not only caused problems for Novello, but sales and profits also declined in real terms. These trends were also reflected in Elgar’s earnings and Source Material 1(3) clearly shows this. The total of royalties and copyrights over the four years was only £1,054 13s: not much more than the copyright of £1,000 he received from The Apostles. Of course this was not the whole story. Elgar was receiving royalties and copyrights from other music publishers, as well as performing fees from Novello and others. The advent of ‘mechanical music’ (records) was also a new interest and source of income....

  10. 6 Royalties and Copyrights on Elgar’s Major Works
    (pp. 128-151)

    Composers in the early twentieth century were remarkably unprepared for the shock of discovering that the market did not necessarily value their works as highly as they did,¹ and this was especially true of the Variations. Elgar wrote: ‘really Jaeger it is a damned fine piece of work’,² but Novello, so it seemed to him, had failed to acknowledge this in financial terms. He was cut down to size by the terms which Novello offered and his sense of outrage, disappointment and humiliation was reflected in his initial reaction to the offer and in the exchange of letters which ensued....

  11. 7 Elgar’s Performing Fees and George Bernard Shaw
    (pp. 152-176)

    In his evidence to the Copyright Commission, Henry Littleton stressed that Novello’s policy was to ensure that performing rights were assigned to the firm in all contracts signed with composers and Elgar was no exception to this. Novello did not, however, exercise these assigned performing rights, and its reasons for not joining the PRS, when it was formed in 1914, were articulated in a background briefing by an unnamed director and published in the Daily Telegraph, 16 July 1914.¹ There were two separate but related points made in this briefing. First: ‘We were quite prepared to join the Society, provided...

  12. 8 Elgar’s Earnings from Broadcasting, Recording and Conducting
    (pp. 177-209)

    To this quotation can also be added broadcasting fees, some performing fees and payments from the BBC to Elgar for commissioning a new symphony. The main parties involved in securing these broadcasting fees were the PRS, Novello and other music publishers, and the fees are set out in Source Material 3.

    When the BBC began broadcasting in November 1922, the reaction of the musical establishment was a mixture of distrust, condescension and apprehension. The PRS took a cautious view, not least because the BBC refused to acknowledge that broadcasts were public performances within the terms of the 1911 Copyright Act:...

  13. 9 A Matter of Wills
    (pp. 210-214)

    Four wills are important when exploring Elgar’s financial affairs. It is curious, however, that although these wills are seen to be significant in the Elgar literature, no detailed analysis has ever taken place, nor have received assumptions been questioned. This is especially so in relation to the consequences of Elgar’s marriage on 8 May 1889.

    The will of Alice Elgar’s mother, who died on 30 May 1887, revealed a great deal. The probate value of her estate was £7,946 (around £857,000 in 2011 pounds). There were a number of important provisions that affected Alice. First, she was left all her...

  14. 10 Epilogue
    (pp. 215-221)

    England’s most successful composer in the late Victorian and Edwardian era was unable to benefit fully in financial terms especially when compared with other creative artists. Money was a constant preoccupation throughout Elgar’s life and was part of his general unease over his lower middle-class, provincial, Roman Catholic upbringing. Furthermore, as he aspired to a standard of living which reflected his status as England’s unofficial laureate among composers, he lived beyond his means and this fed his resentment against other composers who were better off than him. Given this background, his courageous decision to become a freelance composer without the...

  15. APPENDIX: Bank of England, Inflation Calculator
    (pp. 222-222)
    (pp. 223-228)
  17. Index
    (pp. 229-242)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)