Walking with Elgar

A sponsored walk through the landscapes the composer knew and loved. 7-8 September 2016

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Join us on an enjoyable two-day guided walk along the Three Choirs Way with Stephen Johnson, who lives locally and is a huge Elgar enthusiast, talking about Elgar’s relationship to the glorious landscape and specific sites as we go.

There is no charge for taking part in the tour.  You will pay only your own expenses. We provide the organisation, guide, talks and transport if required free of charge.

What we do ask you to do, is to approach friends, acquaintances and relations to sponsor you. We are asking each walker to raise £300 or more in sponsorship.

Stephen Johnson writes:

‘…there is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require.’

It wasn’t just in the air: it was in feel of the earth under the feet, the sound and movement of water, the play of light through trees, and in the dreamlike atmospheres of lonely places. For Edward Elgar ideas might be worked over sitting at a desk, but that wasn’t where the inspiration came. It had to be sought, on long walks or, later, even longer cycle rides. From his earliest conscious years, places had the potential to turn into music, whether it was the ‘Tune from Broadheath’ he jotted down at his childhood home, or the themes and musical textures suggested by the River Severn, the Malvern Hills, the woodlands of the Teme valley or the wind in the trees at Birchwood Lodge, perched commandingly above the Worcester plain. 

Movement was essential. There was something about swinging the legs, thrashing the bracken with a cane, perhaps dawdling contemplatively for a while before striking forth again – this was Elgar’s way of getting his creative imagination working. The quality of the movement itself found its way into the music. So many of Elgar’s great themes are walking tunes: the marches, of course, but also the vigorous striding tune that opens the Second Symphony, the solemn processional that begins the First, the dreamy melancholic lilting tread that launches the Cello Concerto – and many more. Elgar even had a favourite metronome marking, crotchet = 72 - the perfect steady walker’s tempo. 

So there is nothing that brings us closer to the working of Elgar’s creative mind than walking through the country he loved from childhood, noting the places with special associations for him, seeing for instance how mysterious and alluring the distant Malvern Hills look from Elgar’s youthful home in Worcester, and enjoying with him the sense of achievement when one actually arrives. To walk through the landscapes Elgar loved is to walk with him – the real Elgar, that is: the private, acutely sensitive nature poet so often hidden from view behind the carefully cultivated Edwardian gentlemanly mask. Go back to the music after this and you will almost certainly hear it with new ears – the melodies, the harmonies, those distinctive orchestral colours will all now have, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, ‘a local habitation and a name’.

Email us to reserve your place.  We would love you and your friends to join us. Places are limited, so don’t wait too long. 

Shakespeare's Musical Brain Conference - 16 April 2016

The Great Hall and Chapel, King's College, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS

CLICK HERE to view the programme

In association with Shakespeare's Globe.  Part of Shakespeare400.

The conference considered the relationship between words and music in aesthetic and scientific terms, and how it affects the relationship between actor and audience then as now. Bill Barclay, Director of Music at the Globe Theatre, explored the Music of the Spheres, both as this relates to Shakespeare and its meaning from ancient times through to modern physics. Prof Michael Trimble, behavioural neurologist, examined the similarities and differences in the conception and reception of words and music, understanding their distinct and mutual importance better through the medium of Shakespeare himself.  Actors and musicians took a leading part, illustrating and responding creatively to the lectures, joining in discussion and ending the event with a performance of music and readings that reflected the themes of the day. 

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Image credit: Harmen Steenwyck - Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life, c. 1640. The National Gallery.


Bill Barclay, Director of Music at Shakespeare’s Globe, is a composer, actor, director, conductor and multi-instrumentalist.  He has collaborated with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA, the Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston, the Tanglewood Music Center, Boston Symphony Orchestra, among others. His works include Five Sonnets to Orpheus for the Aurea Ensemble. His solo performance Muse on Fire: Shakespeare & the Music of the Spheres has been performed in universities and theatres across the US and abroad.

Dr Freya Bailes, Academic Fellow in Music Psychology, Leeds University, will speak on 'Psychological Time-Travel: Exploring Audience Responses to Music In Shakespeare's Theatre'.

Dr Simon Smith is Extraordinary Junior Research Fellow and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the Faculty of English, Queen’s College, Oxford. He taught for Birkbeck, for Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and for Shakespeare’s Globe, where he has been Early Modern Music Research Associate since 2012.

Michael Trimble, Emeritus Professor of Behavioural Neurology at the Institute of Neurology, Queen Square. He is especially interested in our emotional responses to artistic experiences: his book The Soul in the Brain explores the cerebral basis of art and belief and his more recently published volume, Why Humans Like to Cry, discusses emotional responses to tragedy and the arts from an evolutionary and neurobiological perspective.

Leading actors and musicians of Shakespeare's Globe illustrated lectures, joined in discussions and concluded the conference with a performance of music, song and readings in the beautiful King's College Chapel.

Musicians of Shakespeare's Globe, a consort of period instruments: George Bartle, Sam Goble, Robin Jeffrey, Alastair Warren and Adrian Woodward.

Actors: Will Mannering and Ellie Piercy

This event had live subtitles, delivered by STAGETEXT.

Supported by Backstage Trust and NADP


The Musical Brain ®
Registered Charity Number: 1159843