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Edward Elgar and Caroline Alice Roberts: Part 1

“…there was more in it than music.”

Alice and Edward soon after their marriage. Source: The New Classical FM

After Helen Weaver had fled to New Zealand, leaving the young Edward Elgar utterly bereft, the young composer was, for while, unable to even think about music.

Inevitably Elgar used the loss of Helen as a means of bringing to the surface deep emotions — bordering on despair at times — as an artistic device, in the same, but less macabre way, that Dante Gabriel Rossetti had used the memory of his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, to fuel his art and poetry.

But Elgar knew he had to get himself out of this rut of lost love. But what to do? And more importantly what to do for a living?

There was no position for him in the family music shop, and it probably wouldn’t have suited his temperament any way. But music had undeniably become his driving force, with an ever increasing number of small compositions (with one performed in London) under his belt, as well as arranging and conducting work for local orchestras — including a ‘band’ he’d assembled in a lunatic asylum.

Elgar and his father. Source: Cobbe Collection

But it was probably his father who suggested he promote himself as a violin soloist, available at two guineas a time. He had to earn money.

And he proved to be very popular, playing for various clubs, charities, and private parties, enjoying the attention of the many young women who crowded round him at the end each concert, all wanting to learn to play the violin or the piano.

“ You play sublimely, Edward.”

“ Dear Edward, you really must teach me to play…”

“ The violin?”

“ Yes, the violin, my mother will insist upon it.”

How could he resist?

A much happier Edward Elgar then branched out and started giving music lessons to the upper middle-class daughters of upper middle-class families, and as Simon Mundy writes:

“ His favourites were the Gedge sisters (who prompted an Allegretto for violin and piano based on the notes of their name), the Acworths, and Hilda and Isabel Fitton. An older friend of the Fitton family, Caroline Roberts, came to his teaching room in Malvern on October 6th 1886, having seen his advertisement in the paper. After the old coachman had driven her to Malvern for two or three months, he was heard to say that he thought there was more in it than music.”

There certainly was more in it, and on the 26th January 1889, Edward proposed to Caroline, and was accepted. On the 8th May that year, the couple, with Edward’s parents, travelled to the splendidly ornate Brompton Oratory in London for their midday wedding.

The Brompton Oratory. Photo:

The highly educated and well read Caroline Alice Roberts, who was nine years older than Elgar, was no great beauty when the couple married, and quite short in comparison to the long legged Elgar. But their love and commitment to each other was obvious from the very start, with Caroline’s somewhat stern, yet elegant attractiveness growing day by day, month by month, with Elgar metamorphosing into a well dressed, tweed jacketed, country gentleman almost overnight.

The elegant attractive profile of Caroline Alice. Source: The National Trust
The country gentleman composer. Source: Pinterest

For Elgar, marrying Caroline Alice Roberts, was the best decision he ever made. For Caroline it brought forth problems, via her family, of class and status. It was considered by her stuck-up uncles and aunts that Elgar, the son of a shop keeper, was no match for the daughter of a high ranking Indian Army officer. They hinted that if she married Elgar her inheritance might be put at risk.

Caroline, as the daughter of that high ranking Indian Army Officer was having none of it, and set out to protect and promote the musical genius of her darling ‘Edu’ .

To Be Continued…

Read: Edward Elgar in Love — Helen Weaver