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16 October

Music in the Malverns

We were delighted to hear that OV Clive Marks (S 69-74) has recently had one of his letters published in Country Life magazine. Clive was writing to bring attention to the fact that in Edward Elgar’s score for the The Apostles, it appears to show the outline of the Malvern hills! We asked Clive for more information about this discovery…

“During my five years at King’s, my dormitory in School House looked down the school gardens, across the river Severn and out towards the Malvern Hills.  The shape of these hills therefore became very familiar to me.  It was a surprise to me that we never sang any of Elgar’s music during my time at King’s.

My father, (Guy Marks S 40-44) remembered Ivor Atkins, a good friend of Elgar.  Ivor’s son, Wulstan Atkins wrote a book about “The Elgar-Atkins Friendship” and Wulstan inscribed a copy for me.

My first introduction to Elgar’s music came a few years into my university time, when I rehearsed “The Apostles” and immediately noticed a familiar shape written into the score.

The oratorio tells of the calling of the Apostles and this is set at dawn.  The basses and tenors get to sing beautifully simple rhythm, which is a compressed version of the Malvern Hills, when seen from the Hereford side, silhouetted against the dawn sky.  Elgar spent much time on this side of the Malvern Hills and so he would have been familiar with this sight.

Elgar had great fun hiding various elements in his music and I have asked several acclaimed Elgar scholars about his inclusion of this silhouette, but none of them had spotted it.

On midsummer’s day (1970), Alan Stacey (Hon OV) drove a load of us over to the Malvern Hills for a sponsored dawn watch from the top of the Malvern Hills’ Beacon Hill, with the school’s tuck shop couple on duty to provide hot food and beverage for the assembled crowd.  With none of us having an alarm clock, we had to take it in turns staying awake until it was time for the participants to get up as quietly as possible, leaving the others to sleep on.  There were 18 of us in the dormitory, which were on the middle and top floors of School House.”