Widely regarded as the masterpiece of his oeuvre, Sir Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (1900) tells the tale of a man traversing the path from death to Purgatory. Based on Cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem, Elgar’s oratorio did not receive immediate praise due to the amateur choir’s inability to successfully perform the work. However, Gerontius had a reputation-boosting performance in Düsseldorf in May of 1902, after which Elgar received high praise from many, including the likes of Richard Strauss who later become an advocate and friend of his.
“Elgar’s greatness lies in his capacity to see beneath the splendid generic surface of Edwardian prosperity and penetrate to the depths of the individual human soul.” —Bernard Jacobson
Though now one of the best-known English composers, Elgar was subject to personal and professional scrutiny in his home country as a Roman Catholic man in the Church of England’s territory. Prior to a September 1902 performance of Gerontius at the Three Choirs Festival, he was required—at the behest of the Bishop of Worcester—to alter parts of the text to make the oratorio more suitable for an Anglican setting. Largely self-taught, Elgar’s developed a strikingly unique language that combined a Germanic harmonic language and formal design —Brahms had a profound influence on him—with a French flair for melodic and instrumental color. Because he averted himself from the route of formal training, he lacked the typical access one would have to a network of other renowned musicians and did not achieve much musical success until his 40’s when the premiere of his Enigma Variations (1899) granted him wide recognition. He was also a man of the future—in his time, Elgar was one of the first major composers to embrace technology, spending much of the early 20th century recording his own music.
Slip into a dream state with ASO’s performance of one of Sir Edward Elgar’s greatest and most expansive compositions.
My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us! The world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require. —Edward Elgar
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Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
Composed by Edward Elgar