Elgar: an Extraordinary Life

eelLondon: Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 2007.
pp. vi + 154.
Buy paperback

Book description

How did the son of a provincial piano tuner rise to international fame?

Was the English countryside the principal inspiration for Elgar’s music?

Was this moustachioed, red-blooded, imperialist all that he seemed…?

In this fascinating and accessible history, J. P. E. Harper-Scott takes a combative swipe at many of the critical myths and prejudices that have attached themselves to the figure of Elgar, revealing both a surprisingly elusive personality and a deeper, often darker, message within his works.

Cover endorsements

Professor Julian Rushton, Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Leeds:

What makes Harper-Scott’s biography especially timely is its fresh-eyed view of his life and times, and his elegant drawing together so many threads within recent Elgar reception.

Daniel M. Grimley, Tutorial Fellow, Merton College, and University Lecturer, University of Oxford

A delightful read – breezy, but tremendously informative and consistently sensitive and full of revealing insights … The chapter on Elgar’s moustache is worth the price of the volume alone.


Michael Kennedy, Elgar Society Journal, November 2007:

He has written an informative, witty, provocative, and occasionally irreverent account … with a freshness and piquancy that engage the reader from the first page. … The abiding merit of this splendid book is that Harper-Scott challenges received opinion (always a sensible course) with wit, in a racy style, and always with understanding of the other point of view … no matter how much your shelves are groaning under the weight of books on Elgar, you have to add this bottle of biographical champagne to them.

Andrew Thomson, Musical Times, 148, no. 1901 (Winter 2007): 101–5:

His coruscating approach … packs a punch; this is a welcome volume … But he has also much of serious import to say while providing a useful and unpedantic guide to current scholarship and a view of Elgar in the light of present day cultural preoccupations.

Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone, Awards issue 2007:

Few general studies of this composer offer so much food for thought … That [Harper-Scott] is able to address so many of the key issues in Elgar scholarship today—politics, Empire, religion, nostalgia, sexuality and other, less contentious topics—with concision and common sense is deeply impressive. … He’s an unusually perceptive and persuasive advocate, who has something fresh to say about most of the composer’s major works … Elgar: An Extraordinary Life is the best short book on the composer yet.

Daniel Jaffé, BBC Music Magazine, June 2007:

This is now possibly the best first stop … for learning about Elgar’s life as well as the state of play of current scholarship. … There are provocative claims too: Harper-Scott cogently argues the case that Elgar “was by instinct, an despite his occasional protestations, a music analyst” … On the complex yet sympathetic genius … Harper-Scott presents a well-detailed and believable likeness.

Jeffery Taylor, Sunday Express, 22 July 2007:

Small but perfectly constructed book … You are likely to be a music lover when you buy this book and you will not be disappointed … fascinating.

Tim Whitelaw, MUSO, June-July 2007:

Harper-Scott … makes a compelling case for Elgar’s place in the vanguard of English modernism in the early 20th century. … Harper-Scott is a forceful, engaging writer, and as both a biography and a musical appraisal, this book is compelling reading.