The Severn Suite

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The Severn Suite, Opus 87, is a musical work written by Sir Edward Elgar. It is a late composition, written in 1930, the result of an invitation to write a test piece for the National Brass Band Championship. It was dedicated to his friend, the author and critic George Bernard Shaw.[1]

There are five movements, which follow each other without breaks:

I. Introduction (Worcester Castle) - Pomposo
II. Toccata (Tournament) - Allegro molto
III. Fugue (The Cathedral) - Andante
IV. Minuet (Commandery) - Moderato
V. Coda - Lento - Pomposo

The Severn of the title is the name of the river which runs through the centre of the city of Worcester where Elgar spent his childhood and lived later. The subtitles, added by Elgar when he made the orchestral arrangement, refer to historic places in the city: Worcester Castle, The Cathedral and the Commandery. One subtitle refers to the medieval Tournament.


A theme used in the opus may have been developed from an idea expressed in his cantata, Caractacus of 1897-8, a work devoted to the story of the British king defeated and captured by the armies of Rome in the 1st century AD. The work was commissioned by Herbert Whiteley of the National Brass Band Championship committee, who also assigned Henry Geehl, with his knowledge of brass band scoring, to assist with the orchestration. Geehl found Elgar difficult to work with as he had preconceived ideas many of which seemed to Geehl, with his great experience, to be ineffective. The final result was long believed to be Geehl's scoring - a compromise between Elgar's ideas and Geehl's experience.[2] However, in 1995 the original manuscript, entirely in Elgar's hand and with a few pencilled suggestions, presumably the work of Geehl, resurfaced at auction, its emergence lays to rest any claim that the work was orchestrated by Geehl and not by Elgar.[3] The manuscript was subsequently acquired by the Elgar Birthplace Museum, where it now resides.[4]

The first performance was at the National Brass Band Championship at the Crystal Palace on 27 September 1930, which was won by the Foden's Motor Works Band. They then recorded excerpts from the work.[5] It was published by R. Smith & Co. that year.[6]

Following an invitation to record the work, the composer arranged it for symphony orchestra in 1932, and this had its first performance on 14 April with the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. The preface to a full score, published in 1991 by Acuta Music, claimed that: "The present published orchestral version was reconstructed by Esther and Robert Kay from the manuscript full score used at the first performance, Elgar's short score, Elgar's recording and Geehl's brass band score.".[7]


Brass band:

Soprano cornet, solo cornet, repiano cornet & flugelhorn, 2nd & 3rd cornets, solo tenor horn, 1st & 2nd tenor horns, 1st & 2nd baritones, 1st & 2nd tenor trombones, bass trombone, euphonium, E and B basses, drums (side drum, cymbals, bass drum).

Symphony orchestra:

Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in B, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, cymbals, bass drum and strings.


In addition to the composer's orchestral version

  • Military band, arr. Henry Geehl (1931), pub. Keith Prowse
  • Organ, arr. Ivor Atkins as Elgar's Organ Sonata No. 2, Opus 87a (1933), pub. Keith Prowse
  • Concert Band, trans. Alfred Reed (1973), pub. Sam Fox, Inc.


  • The Severn Suite - selections (1930), Crystal Palace Brass Band Festival, Foden's Motor Works Band (Fred Mortimer)
  • The Severn Suite - I, II, III, IV, V 2010, London Brass Virtuosi (David Honeyball)
  • The Severn Suite, Op. 87 (1993), Grimethorpe Colliery Band, on the "Bold As Brass" album
  • The Severn Suite, Op. 87 (2008), Black Dyke Band (Sir Colin Davis) on the album "Classical Dyke Vol. 1 - Elgar"


  1. ^ Moore, p.784: "When the Severn Suite was finished, [Elgar] dedicated the new work to Bernard Shaw."
  2. ^ Moore, p.783–4
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ McVeagh, p.193: "Crystal Palace for the Severn Suite on 27 September ... the winners, Foden's Motor Works Band .. who then recorded an abridged version of the Suite."
  6. ^ Kennedy, p.350
  7. ^ Acuta Music, notes in the study score


External links

  • SEVERN SUITE, op 87 – The Elgar Society
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