the serious doll
by edward elgar 1857-1934
The Nursery Suite is one of the last compositions by Edward Elgar. Like Elgar’s Wand of Youth suites, it makes use of sketches from the composer’s childhood.
There are seven movements and a coda.
1. Aubade (Awake)
2. The Serious Doll
4. The Sad Doll
5. The Wagon (Passes)
6. The Merry Doll
7. Dreaming – Envoy (Coda)
The composition of the Nursery Suite came about when Elgar mentioned in September 1930 to William Laundon Streeton of HMV that he had lately run across a box of musical sketches from the days of his youth. Streeton suggested that he might suitably draw on them for a work to mark the recent birth of Princess Margaret Rose. The suite was dedicated to Princess Margaret, her older sister Princess Elizabeth (the future queen Elizabeth II) and their mother (the Duchess of York).
Most of the movements appear light, in the style of The Wand of Youth Suites, and predominantly sunny in character.
The Nursery Suite was one of the first pieces of orchestral music to receive its premiere in a recording studio (Kingsway Hall, London) rather than a concert hall (although Elgar’s very first recording session, in February 1914, had included the premiere of the miniature “Carissima”). At its premiere on 23 May 1931, all but the two last movements were recorded under the baton of the composer. The last two movements were added when the whole suite was performed on 4 June 1931 before an invited audience including Princess Elizabeth, aged five, and her parents.
The ballet “Nursery Suite”, with Elgar’s music, choreography by Ninette de Valois and scenery and costumes by Nancy Allen, was first performed by the Vic Well Ballet (now the Royal Ballet)) on 19 March 1932 at the Sadler’s Well Theatre.
Elgar wrote a detailed programme note about the Nursery Suite, in which he commented that the opening movement ‘Aubade (Awake) should call up memories of happy and peaceful awaking’’’. After a held chord, a musical image perhaps of the state of sleep itself, a wistful lilting theme on wind and strings brings stirrings of consciousness. Elgar introduces ‘a fragment of a hymn tune (‘Hear Thy children, gentle Jesus’, written for little children when the composer was a youth)’. Elgar had named the tune ‘Drakes Broughton’, after a village near Worcester. After these two ideas are repeated, the hymn ‘dies away to a peaceful close: the day has begun.’