Elgar : The Dream of Gerontius (at St. Paul's Cathedral)
I present Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius as the esoteric pick of the week.
The Dream of Gerontius is a "Divine Comedy-esque" poem by John Henry Newman. Newman was a complex and controversial figure. He was ordained an Anglican priest in the Church of England but later became a deacon cardinal of the Catholic Church.
His poem of the potential afterlife was written on 52 scraps of paper between January 17th and February 7th of 1865. Elgar set the poem to music in 1900 with the first performance later that year.
Because of the Catholic content of the poem and a terrible performance on the premiere, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius did not receive many English performances. The text was translated into German and it was in Germany where the piece solidified itself as Elgar’s best choral work.
Elgar revised the text to suit Anglican taste 10 years after the premiere. A hundred years later this type of intolerance seems silly and misplaced, but at the time, the inclusion of purgatory drove the Church of England nuts.
It is tempting to call The Dream of Gerontius an oratorio, but Elgar did not consider it to be such because the music continues seamlessly where as an oratorio has distinct numbers and breaks between them.
Elgar felt as though this piece of music was his most personal statement and that if we want to understand him, this is the place to focus.