By Dan Coles
An undiscovered masterpiece by Sir Edward Elgar has been played for the first time – after it was discovered hidden in the pages of an autograph book.
The ‘andante’ melody, from 1924, was written on musical manuscript paper and signed by the great composer, responsible for some of the most iconic classical music to ever come from England.
Believed to be scored for a string quartet, experts believe the tune could also be a brief overture for a more comprehensive piece.
It was discovered tucked away inside an autograph book owned by a charity fundraiser who died in 1983 and is believed to not have been heard aloud for nearly 100 years.
The manuscript will feature in Richard Winterton’s Library Sale at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Staffordshire, on March 26.
Auctioneer Richard Winterton, who starts in BBC’s Bargain Hunt and Dickinson’s Real Deal, said: “Elgar is widely regarded as one of this country’s greatest ever composers.
“There can’t be many people who don’t know some of his music, even if they aren’t necessarily aware that he wrote it.
“Unfolding this musical manuscript tucked away inside an autograph book – which was already loaded with impressive signatures – I could not believe what I was seeing.
Not only is it signed and dated by Elgar but there are several lines of complicated musical notation. It was clearly a short melody, written down yet never played.
“Perhaps never heard aloud for almost 100 years.”
The autograph book, which is bulging with impressive signatures and dates back to 1923, was owned collected by Lydia Tabb, a matron at Barnardo’s, during her time fundraising for the charity.
It contains approximately 69 signatures including five Prime Ministers – Herbert Henry Asquith, David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald and Winston Churchill – as well as four important authors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, Sir JM Barrie and Rudyard Kipling
Other signatures in the book include those of Charlie Chaplin, the future King George VI and many important figures from the First World War including Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme Allied Commander during WW1, and Field Marshal Earl Haig.
Relatively little is known about Lydia, who was born in 1897 and died in 1983, other than that she worked tirelessly for Barnado’s and at one point travelled to Australia on behalf of the charity.
The fundraiser, whose maiden name was Probyn before she married Herbert Edward Tabb in 1939, previously had links to Surrey before moving to Gravelly Hill, Birmingham.
Lydia’s great nieces Linda Brewer and Jane Coombs remember visiting her as children.
Linda said: “My dad would mow the lawn while we would sit with her eating sandwiches and watching the wrestling.
“But I don’t remember her ever mentioning the autograph book or the Elgar manuscript.
“It’s a bit of a mystery as to how Lydia compiled the signatures of so many famous and influential people and we would love to find out more.”
Sir Edward William Elgar, who was born in 1857 and died in 1934, is regarded as one of England’s greatest composers, with many of his compositions featuring in classical concert repertoires all over the world.
Orchestral works such as the Enigma Variations and Pomp and Circumstance marches sit among his best-known compositions alongside two symphonies and concertos for violin and cello.