Edward Elgar

The Dream of Gerontius, oratorio for soloists, chorus & orchestra, Op. 38

    Description by Wayne Reisig

    "This, if anything of mine, is worth your memory," wrote Edward Elgar (quoting Ruskin) regarding his oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. The composer, often self-deprecating about even his most ambitious works, felt that this effort, inspired by a poem of Cardinal Newman, represented his finest music. Elgar received a copy of Newman's poem as a wedding present from his priest, and it struck a particular chord with him; in fact, the poem -- which explained Roman Catholic theological views on the immortal soul in an accessible manner -- had a tremendous vogue in the late Victorian era. Elgar edited the text down to about half its orginal size for the sake of musical economy, but he managed to do so without altering the essence of the poem. The 1900 premiere under Richter at the Birmingham Festival was marred by insufficient rehearsal, but at its German premiere a year later it was hailed as a masterpiece. Subsequent British performances quickly established the work in the repertory.

    The central character of Gerontius is an imperfect, yet decent, man who is riddled with doubts on his deathbed. An angel comes to him during his last moments to give him a glimpse of the afterlife, culminating in an overwhelming vision of God. Gently the angel returns his ward to a death which will now be a peaceful transition. The prelude to the oratorio commences with a fade-in, as a candle's light would gradually illuminate a dark room. Here the hesitating, vague rhythm would seem to represent the labored breathing of the dying man. A typically Elgarian martial theme emerges, in major but quickly souring into anguished minor, evoking a crisis of faith. Part One of the oratorio proper commences; it consists of a dialogue between Gerontius, alternately offering supplication and despairing, and the clerical assistants, praying for his soul. Hope is found in the buoyant and noble "Proficisere" of the priest ("Go upon thy journey, Christian soul!"), in Elgar's nobilmente mode, answered by the chorus of assistants and subsiding to a serene close. Part Two commences, again nebulous but purged of torment, as Gerontius' soul speculates on this strange new existence and is joined by his angel who will lead him to the Almighty. They travel past the underworld, depicted in the "Demon's Chorus" by a restless, shadowy fugue punctuated by grotesque laughter. The angel assures the soul that they are past their harm, and presently they come before the choir of angels, depicted in the work's most glorious music, "Praise to the Holiest." This ethereal and childlike section is usually performed by a children's chorus. The soul is brought before God, inspiring uncomprehending awe; at this point comes Gerontius' moving aria, "Take me away." The angel soothes Gerontius and returns him to a gentler leave-taking, as the oratorio comes to a serene, transfigured close with "The Angel's Farewell," perhaps Elgar's most sensitive music.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 1, Prelude
    2. No. 2, Jesu Maria, I am near to death
    3. No. 3, Kyrie eleison
    4. No. 4, Rouse thee, my fainting soul
    5. No. 5, Sanctus fortis
    6. No. 6, I can no more
    7. No. 7, Rescue him, O Lord
    8. No. 8, Proficiscere, anima Christiana
    9. No. 9, Go in the name of Angels
    10. No. 10, I went to sleep
    11. No. 11, It is a member of that family
    12. No. 12a, Low-born clods of brute earth
    13. No. 12b, Dispossessed, aside thrust
    14. No. 13, I see not those false spirits
    15. No. 14, Praise to the Holiest
    16. No. 15a, But hark! a grand mysterious harmony
    17. No. 15b, Praise to the Holiest
    18. No. 16, Thy judgement now is near
    19. No. 17, Jesu! by that shuddering dread
    20. No. 18, Take me away
    21. No. 19, Lord, Thou hast been our refuge
    22. No. 20, Softly and gently

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 ABC Classics
    2017 Decca 4831585
    2015 Melodiya MELCD 1002266
    2015 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 12017
    2015 Warner Classics 552758
    2014 Chandos CHSA 51402
    2013 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186472
    2013 Chandos CHAN 24146
    2011 Music & Arts CD 1257
    2011 ABC Classics / Decca ABC 4764297
    2010 West Hill Radio Archives 6033
    2009 Halle Concerts Society 7520
    2009 Classics for Pleasure
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099969758
    2008 Archipel 0403
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950360
    2007 EMI Classics 00061
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946391973
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 67931
    2006 LSO 83
    2006 LSO Live 583
    2005 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 575764
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 75790
    2002 Decca 473 249-2
    2001 Pearl 0128
    2000 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243573579
    1999 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243566540
    1997 Naxos 553885-86
    1996 Testament 2025
    1995 Decca 448 170-2DF2
    1993 Opal 9810
    1992 Chandos 8641
    1989 Angel Records / EMI 763185-2
    EMI Music Distribution 47208
    EMI Music Distribution 63376