Expert’s historic Elgar find recorded

Barry Collett
Barry Collett
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Early music written by the composer Elgar and discovered by Rutland Sinfonia’s Barry Collett 25 years ago has finally been professionally recorded and is attracting worldwide attention.

Barry, emeritus conductor of the Rutland orchestra, is an acknowledged expert on Elgar and in bringing his previously unknown work to light.

A quarter of a century ago he came across some music written by the young composer when he was bandmaster at Powick Lunatic Asylum. He played it with Rutland Sinfonia at the time but it has now been recorded professionally by the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra - with Barry conducting. The CD will be launched next week at the Elgar Birthplace Museum and Visitor Centre at Worcester.

Barry, of Hanbury Close, Oakham, a former Director of Music at Rutland College, said this week that the CD had attracted a lot of attention.

“There was a big piece in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week, it had a mention on BBC Radio 3 and there will be an article next month in Classic Music magazine and in America’s Allegro magazine in May.”

English composer Sir Edward Elgar, 1857-1934, best known for his Pomp and Circumstance Marches, part of which is sung as Land of Hope and Glory, has not always had the recognition he deserves. From a relatively poor background, he did not follow the classical path of the great composers but was largely self-taught.

To earn a living in his younger days he worked at Powick Hospital, the Worcester County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum which, rather progressivley for the time, used music therapy for its inmates. Elgar played as a violinist in a series of orchestral concerts there and in 1879, at the age of 22, was made band instructor.

He composed a number of works, now known as The Powick Asylum Music and conducted the Asylum Band at Friday night dances and Saturday concerts.

For more than a century this written music lay forgotten in the care of the trustees of Elgar’s estate. Then Barry Collett, doing some research on Elgar, found a dusty collection of volumes stamped with the Powick Hospital insignia and realised what they were. When he suggested that his Rutland amateur orchestra might play the works, the trustees at the time laughed at him - describing the music as ‘juvenile rubbish’. Eventually they relented and in 1988 Rutland Sinfonia played the pieces at Powick Hospital in the year that it closed as a mental health facility.

Recently Barry was thrilled to conduct the Innovation Chamber Ensemble of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The CD will be released by Somm Recordings on Monday.

“I never saw this music as juvenile rubbish but was thrilled to see it coming to life for the first time in over 100 years. I saw it as a step towards Elgar’s greatness. Some of it is quirky, some is foot-tapping and some is full of grace. I love it all,” Barry said.

Barry was awarded the Elgar Medal in 2012 by the Elgar Society for his work in bringing to light the composer’s lesser-known works.