Although written on commission to honor the memory of the Rev. Robert Hadden, ward of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, one can hear in Elgar's Elegy for strings deeply felt echoes of "Nimrod." The composer's closest friend and advisor, Augustus Jaeger, had passed away only one month before, so it is hardly surprising that that most eloquent of the Enigma Variations peers through the bars of this short work.
It is tempting to compare this brief but eloquent work to one from a few years previous, the adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. The two are structurally arch-shaped, speak closely related emotional languages, and are similarly scored. The Elgar work retains a stoic yet deeply felt dignity that sidesteps the angst of the Mahler symphony movement. Yet from the outset, the Elegy speaks a more intense language than usual for the composer, containing very dense string writing and more dissonance than the norm. Some consolation is to be found in the middle section, which is also highly reminiscent of the composer's earlier string music -- perhaps a deliberate touch of poignancy, for those works were wrought during a much happier time in the composer's life. With the reprise of the opening section the arch of the music touches down to a somber yet calmly accepting close.