The Firs - Alice, Lady Elgar
Caroline Alice Roberts, known as Alice, was born in Bhuj, Gujarat, India, in 1848. Her father was Major General Sir Henry Gee Roberts, KBE, who was serving in India at the time of the Indian Mutiny.
Sir Henry retired to England and bought a large house near the village of Redmarley d’Abitot, just beyond the south end of the Malvern Hills. However he died after only a couple of year’s retirement and Alice, as she was always known, was left to look after her elderly mother.
There was plenty of time to develop a range of interests, including geology – helping Rev W S Symonds when writing his book about the Malvern Hills, The Record of the Rocks.
Alice became a linguist, wrote much poetry and a two-volume novel Marchcroft Manor which was published in 1882.
Alice meets Edward
In 1886, Alice arrived for piano lessons at the studio of the then unknown Edward Elgar.
The old coachman whose job it was to drive Alice to and from the lessons remarked that he “thought there was more to it than music”, and he was right. Alice penned a poem for her teacher “Love’s Grace”; Elgar replied with a beautiful little piece of music called “Salut d’amour” – Love’s Greeting. A romance blossomed and they were married in May 1889.
Alice’s extended family was horrified by the union. They were semi-aristocratic; Elgar was the son of a shopkeeper. And there were religious differences; they were Anglican and the Elgars were Roman Catholic. This was all too much for the Roberts family in the days of strict class and religious divisions, and Alice was cut out of several aunts’ and uncles’ wills. However, she had an absolute belief in Elgar’s abilities, long before he’d composed anything of any real merit.
" The care of a genius is enough of a life work for any woman."
The music years
Virtually all of the music for which Elgar is remembered came during the years of the marriage – and it’s probably no coincidence. His first composition of any real merit “Froissart” came in 1890, the year after their marriage, and what is often thought of as his last great work, the Cello Concerto came the year before Alice’s death in 1920. Although Elgar lived for another 14 years, his creative flame had been extinguished. Alice was buried alongside Elgar at St Wulstan’s Roman Catholic Church, Little Malvern.
As an engagement present, Elgar dedicated his short violin and piano piece Salut d'Amour to her. With Alice's encouragement, the Elgars moved to London to be closer to the centre of British musical life, and Elgar started devoting his time to composition.
Their only child, Carice Irene, was born at their home in West Kensington on 14 August 1890. Her name, revealed in Elgar's dedication of Salut d'Amour, was a contraction of her mother's names Caroline and Alice.