Largely self-taught as a composer, Elgar was over 40 when he first began to taste the fruit of success with the triumphant first performance of his Variations on an Original Theme ("Enigma") in 1899. Conversely, The Dream of Gerontius was a failure at its first performance the following year and only gradually came to be regarded as one of its composer's finest works. Elgar was perhaps the first English composer of any stature to draw on the orchestral resources of a Berlioz or a Richard Strauss, writing not only several symphonic works, but also many smaller-scale pieces. It was, however, in the English choral tradition that he shone with particular brilliance.
The death of his wife in 1920 affected his powers of creativity, which not even a series of official appointments was able to revive. Moreover, England was no longer the country of Victoria and Edward VII in which he had grown up and enjoyed his greatest triumphs, with the result that he remained largely silent during his final 15 years. "Land of Hope and Glory" (1902) is an adaptation of the melody of the trio section fromm his first Pomp and Circumstance March, and has become England's unofficial national anthem.