Diaries show Elgar’s links to Norwich

Diaries revealing the century-old friendship between a Norwich lawyer and one of England's greatest composers will be displayed next month at a special concert.

A century ago, one of England's greatest composers struck up an instant rapport with a Norwich lawyer, who shared his passion for music.

During his frequent visits to the city, Sir Edward Elgar would stay with his new friend Walter Hansell, watching performances with him and even inviting him to spend Christmas with his family.

Next month, a special concert will honour the historic harmony between the legal firm and the man whose rousing anthems have now become emblems of patriotic pride. But the event will also bring a rare chance to see documents detailing a very personal insight into the pair's friendship.

Excerpts from the Elgar Diaries will be displayed at a performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor by the Norwich Philharmonic at St Andrew's Hall on December 10.

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The beautifully-scripted text, mostly penned by Elgar's wife Alice, reveals the composer's affection for his hosts and the city where some of his masterpieces were performed.

Images from the diary entries will be brought on microfilm by Elgar enthusiast and social historian Martin Bird, editor of the Elgar Society Journal.

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'Elgar kept a diary from 1889, the year he married his wife Alice,' he said. 'It was Alice who later managed Elgar's diary and they tell a fantastic story of his life.

'They were written very much for posterity. She had a great husband and was determined that future generations must know it.

'Elgar was no stranger to Norwich according to the diaries and Walter was certainly his main contact. The interesting thing is they met at the festival in 1905 and we know the Elgars invited the Hansells over to their home in Hereford to spend Christmas with them – so they must have taken a liking to them.'

Lady Elgar's diary entry of October 23, 1905, recalls: 'Busy packing for Norwich. Missed 1st train just caught next 5.15 arr. an hour later at Carrow Abbey. Such a nice reception felt congenial atmosphere at once. Met Mr. Hansell for 1st time.'

On October 28, she wrote: 'Left Carrow Abbey 8.30. the Prof. & Mr. Hansell to station with us – Mr. Hansell had found Cousins, a man servant for E. for his tour.'

Later that year, Walter Hansell was invited to spend Christmas with the Elgars. The diaries say he arrived on Christmas Eve and when he left on Boxing Day. Lady Elgar was 'sorry to lose him'.

December's concert is being sponsored by Hansells Solicitors – Walter's long-standing company which supported the triennial Norfolk and Norwich Festival where the two men first met in 1905.

Roger Holden, managing partner at the firm today, said: 'Elgar and Walter Hansell became friends through their love of music and it is well documented in Elgar's diaries how Walter would attend rehearsals with Elgar whilst preparing for the Norwich Music Festival.

'This was no interested spectator at a concert. It was someone involved in the way the music was created – one of the inner circle.

'The really lovely thing is to see they spent Christmas together, so they must have been close friends.

'We are very proud of him. It is thrilling for us to be presented with a social history like this. We are one of the older firms in the city and to have that link with one of Britain's greatest composers is fabulous. One hundred and six years on since the pair first met, the two are reunited – albeit not in person.'

Elgar was born near Worcester in 1857 and died in 1934. As well as the Cello Concerto in E minor, he is famed for orchestral works such as the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, including Land of Hope and Glory.

More than 550 people are expected to attend the concert in St Andrew's Hall at 7.30pm on December 10. The venue itself also has a historic parallel, as it is where Elgar chose to debut his Sea Pictures work in 1899.

For tickets, contact Prelude Records on St Giles Street on 01603 628 319 or visit www.preluderecords.co.uk.

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