Elgar’s Shed Music

Elgar never had more than rudimentary lessons on the violin or piano: a natural talent instead began to emerge that was ‘at home’ in the world of practical music-making. Nothing demonstrates this better than the music he wrote – from April 1878 until 1881 – for himself and a number of friends to play on Sunday afternoons. For most of the time the ensemble was a woodwind quintet consisting of two flutes, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, all played by amateurs of differing abilities: Elgar’s brother Frank (oboe – clearly an outstanding player), Hubert and William Leicester(flute and clarinet), Frank Exton (flute) and Edward Elgar on bassoon.

Because the ensemble was an unusual one there was no existing repertoire available to play, so Elgar composed or arranged all of it. The ensemble (which later included a violin and cello – Elgar playing the latter) met every Sunday afternoon in a shed behind Elgar Brothers’ music shop, and they called themselves “The Brothers Wind” or “The Sunday Band” and serenaded many locals at rural events. More particularly, Elgar called the music “shed music” and marked the seven volumes with the designations “Shed 1”, Shed 2”, etc. Several of the longer compositions he called “Harmony Music” – an Anglicization of the German “Harmoniemusik”, a serenade for wind instruments. The Shed books were in fact preserved by Hubert Leicester and are now in the British Library.

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