Believe it or not, Edward Elgar was self-taught as a composer! Working as an orchestral musician and a violin teacher, his wife encouraged him through his persistent insecurity as he gained experience of his true ambition, and he first established a reputation in the British Midlands with a series of oratorios. In 1899, however, the _Enigma Variations_ took the country by storm, and the _Dream of Gerontius_ came shortly after - following these successes, his music was performed throughout Europe, and between 1900 and 1920 he was regarded internationally as the leading British composer.
His music explores the expressive potential of chromatic harmony and virtuoso orchestration, and shows influences of Romantic composers such as Wagner, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt and Franck. Indeed, Elgar's originality and rise to fame lay largely in this adoption of continental techniques, but even so, he then became viewed as a musical symbol of 'Englishness' and the British Empire. The confident, ebullient manner of his ceremonial music (e.g. the _Pomp and Circumstance Marches_) is contrasted with a deeper and poetic vein, demonstrating the often painful insecurities of his period, class and religion.
_"Music is in the air - you simply take as much as you require!" — Edward Elgar_