AS the superb sequence of events across all the arts and the country that have been commissioned for the 14-18 NOW project marking the centenary of the First World War come to a climax in the run-up to Armistice Day, two award-winning television documentaries about composers whose lives included those years have been made available on DVD. Both are the work of John Bridcut, whose other work has covered Delius and, in collaboration with the Prince of Wales, Hubert Parry, as well as a profile of the Queen at 90.

As that CV might suggest, there is something a little old fashioned about Bridcut’s style as director and narrator, although the first of the films, The Passions of Vaughan Williams, is just decade old and his compelling study of Elgar, The Man Behind the Mask, from two years later. Here is a familiar mix of vintage footage, candlelit choirs, orchestral rehearsals and talking heads, to which he adds, somewhat daringly in this fast-paced era, footage of his experts – conductors and critics mostly – simply listening to the music and voicing their reaction, a device he and his team term “commplay”. Given that there is hardly any of that tiresome contemporary tendency of documentary to tell the viewer endlessly what they are about to see, and them remind them what it was afterwards, they are packed hour-and-a-halves of performance and biography that demand that unfashionable discipline of attention.

If Bridcut’s work seems of an earlier era, that is nothing to what the stories of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar reveal about the change in social attitudes since their time in the media spotlight. The director’s aim is to appreciate the music through the detail of the lives, and to reveal biographical information through close listening to the music, and although he never sells their work short – it has a generous amount of space – he revels in juicy titbits of the personal stuff. In curiously parallel, although perhaps all-too-predictable, ways, Vaughan Williams and Elgar cultivated secret relationships with younger women late in life, tolerated to some degree by the first wives who were so crucially supportive early in their careers.

As his titles suggest the film-maker believes, Vaughan Williams comes across as the more likeable chap, although his behaviour would surely be scrutinised closely today. Bridcut interviewed many older women who knew him, who all fondly remember a touchy-feely chap who was a hit with all the girls, despite looking like a badly-packed parachute for all of his life. Pictures show him even contriving that trick in uniform, serving as a medical orderly in the trenches after lying about his age (by reducing it), in order to volunteer. Although his star had risen before the war, it was sometime after it ended that he was able to compose again and take his place as one of nation’s major musical figures. Enlisting as a private, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant and twenty years later the woman who became his lover, and later second wife, was married to a senior army officer.

Although his post-war Cello Concerto is now one of Elgar’s best-known works, in his lifetime, the First World War really marked the division between his greatest successes and declining reputation. At the start of The Man Behind The Mask, the composer is described by musician David Owen Norris as someone who was out to bamboozle posterity. That improbable aim is pretty much confirmed by Bridcut’s probing beneath the Edwardian façade the composer cultivated, with compelling time and date evidence of his intimate relationships with both John Millais and Effie Gray’s (married) daughter Alice Stuart-Wortley and, much later in his life, violinist Vera Hockman. Interestingly, it is the daughters of both women who supply crucial elements of that evidence.

The Passions of Vaughan Williams and Elgar: The Man Behind The Mask are available from Crux Productions at £10.99 each,