Elgar's Sospiri was premiered on August 11, 1914, and in less than two weeks the world would be forever changed. Much of the composer's music from this period is read as an elegy to a disappearing golden age: the long-fading close of the Second Symphony, Falstaff being dismissed by the new young king. Granted, these readings have the benefit of hindsight. Yet in the case of Sospiri the interpretation seems reasonable, for world events were rapidly drawing to a head, and a sense of world-weariness, albeit restrained, is deeply felt in this brief, unusual work. The composer's wife, in fact, said that the work was "like a breath of peace on a perturbed world." The title is Italian for "sighs" or "sighing."
Although Elgar said that as a whole he did not care for French music, there is something quite Gallic in the Fauré-like delicacy and clarity of the writing here. This impression is due in part to the ethereal scoring for strings, harp, and organ (the organ part, unusually, is ad lib). The main melody enters dissonantly over the harmony, and the resolution, as well as the wide intervals, seem evocative of the title. After the reprise of the opening, the different voices, each from a different entry point, glide to a long-held final cadence that brings to rest this sensitive essay in resigned serenity.