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Following the extraordinary successes of the ‘Enigma Variations' (1899) and 'The Dream of Gerontius' (1900), Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934) was catapulted from a relatively successful career into the highest musical circles in Britain. In 1904 he was knighted, and in 1924 he was appointed Master of the King’s Music. An outsider to the profession (he received no formal musical training following his school years), he was the most celebrated British composer of the early twentieth century. In 1904 he was invited to become the Peyton Professor of Music at Birmingham University. Although reluctant, he accepted the position and delivered a series of lectures on contemporary British music (1905–1906), before relinquishing the chair in 1908. This sketch dates from the time of his appointment at Birmingham; it is thought that Elgar and his daughter Carice destroyed the finished portrait.

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