James Bennett II is a staff writer for WQXR.
New Podcast Explores the Tragic Story Behind 'Fringes of the Fleet'
Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 11:10 AM
Creator Kevin Allen describes each episode of his history podcast The Ends, as being about the “end of a man, a myth or a movement.” The second episode, entitled “Nimrod,” is a poignant account of the close relationship between composer Edward Elgar and baritone Charles Mott, another historical figure whose work was celebrated by contemporaries but whose spirit was lost to war.
Elgar first heard Mott in the months leading up to the First World War, when the latter sang the role of Kothner in a production of Wagner’s Tristan Und Isolde. The aging composer took notice and a bond between them quickly formed. Elgar came to see Mott as the son he never had, and had the young baritone perform at the premiere of his two wartime masterworks: Starlight Express and, two years later, Fringes of the Fleet. It was Fringes that proved wildly successful and drove Mott to the far reaches of fame.
Later that year, Mott was drafted into the British army, where he joined the Artists Rifles. In May of 1918, almost one year after the premiere of Fringes, he was wounded in action at the Third Battle of the Aisne and died two days later. Elgar was devastated.
But Mott’s voice lives on. Both Starlight and Fringes were recorded. Though initially lost, they were recently found and re-engineered, resurrecting the memory of the talented baritone. Listen to the episode here and an excerpt from the Fringes of the Fleet song cycle below.