Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Another Unknown Soldier - Lilian Elkington

On International Women's Day, I'd like to remember another Unknown Soldier, Lillian Elkington (1901-69), of whose music so little is known that even her own daughetr didn't know she was a composer until an interviewer contacted her.  Perhaps more can be traced through Census information. I'll leave that to intrepid archivists. Thetre's bound to be something.

What little we do know about her comes from Lewis Foreman, who wrote the notes for the first recording of Elkington's Out of the Mist (1921), the score of which was discovered in a second-hand shop in Worthing, presumably inadvertently dispersed with her effects after her death. Elkington studied with Granville Bantock in Birmingham, and some of her works were heard in recital at the time. On her marriage (unknown date and place) she gave up her career altogether: unfortunately not such an unusual situation in those days.  Alma Mahler apologists should take note. All the more respect to the many women who did continue their careers, and to those who couldn't and are forgotten.

The title Out of the Mist refers to the heavy mist that hung over the Channel when the ship carrying the body of the Unknown Soldier arrived back in England.  I have no idea whether Elkington saw the event, or whether she read about it in the papers or saw newsreels. Her response, in this music, was dignified and elegaic.  The piece runs just under 8 minutes, but is ambitiously scored for large ensemble . It begins mysteriously : one can imagine the ship materializing in port, out of the mists, docking and unloading the coffin,which was then ceremoniously taken, by carriage, to rest in Westminster Abbey, as seen in the photo above. The Unknown Soldier is "home" at last, carrying with him , symbolically, the memory of millions of other who would never return.  Thus,Out of the Mist ends with transcendent brightness, as if the Unknown Soldier and the men and women he stands for are bathed in glory.

Although we only know Elkington through this one piece, it, too, stands symbolically, for the work she might have done had she lived in a different era, and for the works other women may have written which have been forgotten,  and for those who,like the soldiers of 1914-1918, were never able to fulfil their potential.  Fortunately for us, Out of the Mist is preserved on the seminally important recording on Dutton, where top billing goes to a superb Elgar Spirit of England.. in the first recording of the version for twovoices. This CD also includes the first recording of Philip Lancaster's performing edition of Ivor Gurney's War Elegy (1921) and also F S Kelly's Elegy for Strings  In Memoriam Rupert Brooke and Charles Hubert Parry's The Chivalry of the Sea.  I've written about Elgar's Spirit of England HERE and HERE and about Gurney's War Elegy HERE

The information above comes from Lewis Foreman's notes to the 2006 Dutton recording.  As I thought, there's more recent research, from Pam Blevins'  Maud Powell website on women in music :

"There is an excellent article in the Maud Powell Signature mag on Lilian Elkington by David Brown (the guy who found her stuff in the Worthing bookshop). This fills in a lot of the gaps you refer to and means they are not gaps. Seems she definitely did compose at least a bit after her marriage. And we only have the word of her daughter that she stopped (the daughter who didn't even realise she had composed at all so how would she know? Other works might have gone missing)."
"Daughter also says, though, that Lilian born in 1900 not the widely said 1901. Daughter says Sep 15 1900. I can confirm from BMD records that birth was registered in the Oct-Nov-Dec quarter of 1900 (in Birmingham).
I have also found her in 1911 census aged 10 (which would be right cos her 11th birthday is after the April census day) Her father was a "coffin furniture manufacturer". Interesting! "

The article is at page 45 of this PDF:




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