Elgar's Symphony no.1: Development of the Central Theme

Bullet points on the development of the central theme throughout the symphony, mostly from zigzag notes and my own listening.

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The theme is restated in each movement, making it a cyclical work
First heard in first flute and first flutes with divisi violas and clarinets in octaves. A bassline accompanies this,
playing staccato, without harmony on its first statement by cellos and basses
Restated in the bar before fig 3 with a fuller orchestrated version of the central theme and the bassline is
strengthened with added second trombone, tuba, bass clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon. Elgar uses
orchestral texture to add depth as well as dynamic level to brief sections which have importance.
Figure 3 is almost exactly the same as the initial statement, however 2 bars are omitted (5 before fig 2) and
the ending is altered and extended, with an extended perfect cadence.
A new theme is played at 5, however similarities with the central theme are in the orchestration e.g. the
melody is played by first violins and clarinets
The second subject (fig 12) is clearly based on the central theme, but without the march-like bassline of the
central theme heard in the intro, instead with a flute and second violin countermelody in 6/4, an example of
polymetre (2 different metres simultaneously to blur the sense of metre, add complexity or encourage the
listener to focus on 2 different layers of texture simultaneously).
The development section at fig 18 is in a key signature with one flat and the horns play a varied version of the
CT, with the flutes playing a countermelody similar to that played by the horns before fig 2. A minim bassline
is played by the lower strings (an augmented and transposed section of the intro) and violas play tremolo.
This gives the bassline a less firm quality in contrast with the march-like sense of the opening version.
In fig 24, the cellos and second violins play a new motif which can be linked to the central theme, as it includes
intervals of fifths and sixths.
From fig 54, the first clarinet plays a motif based on the CT, augmented by doubling note values.
In the first seven bars of the CT in the intro, the pitch range is an octave, which is the same as the first two-bar
phrase of the scherzo theme (before fig 56). The 8 bar phrase that follows the seven bar phrase of the CT has
a pitch range of a ninth, same as the second two bar phrase of the scherzo.
Parts of the violin 1 section around 93 and 94 mirror that of fig 2 of the central theme in the intro.
At 96, clarinets play descending 4 notes relating to the opening notes of the CT and the first violins play
ascending 6ths then descending 5ths, just like the second and third bars of the CT.
Fig 104 (final part of mov.3) is said to be reminiscent of the CT, only hinted however. Similar pitches of octave
leaps and falling fifths suggest this.
Ascending fifth-second-sixth motif heard in the last desks of the cellos before 108 is similar to the fragment
heard at fig 7 in the first mov, as it has CTs characteristic leaps of fifths and sixths.
3 bars after 108 the central theme is apparent in the first and second violins and violas, however transposed
and with an alternative ending. Clarinets also join in halfway through.
CT is quoted in A flat minor from fig 129, played by last desk first and second violins and violas.
3 bars after 110 the CT is heard in its original key in flutes, first violins (last desk only), second violins and
violas (both only one half playing).
A transposed section of the CT is heard in last desk only first violin, second violins and violas (again only half
playing), cor anglais and cornet from the fifth bar before 111.
At 147 the central theme is restated with more stability and a fuller texture. Elgar used all the earlier
suggestions of the CT (above) to build up toward 147 and the end.
9 bars before the end the central theme is hinted in the brass playing the first 3 notes.


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