This May, we presented Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and William Boughton. The piece takes those who are willing on an emotional “final journey,” filled with peaks and valleys, expressed through Elgar’s evocative and rich musical vision of John Henry Newman’s poem.
Edward Elgar composed The Dream of Gerontius in 1900 for a large, Romantic era orchestra, a double chorus with a semi-chorus, and soloists. The text is from the poem The Dream of Gerontius by John Henry Newman and was a favorite of Elgar’s for many years before he set it to music. There are two parts to this work with two distinct moods.
Part I introduces us to Gerontius in prayer at the end of his life. He experiences the full range of emotions that one would expect of someone facing death; fear, pain, hope, and ultimately peace. His friends join him in prayer and a priest presides over his last moments.
Part II begins the journey of the soul of Gerontius. He awakens in a place out of time and space in the presence of his guardian angel (written for a female singer). After they talk, she accompanies Gerontius on his journey to the judgment throne. They must pass both demons and choirs of angels. They encounter The Angel of the Agony pleading with Jesus to spare the souls of the faithful. Gerontius at last sees God and is judged. The Guardian Angel then lowers Gerontius into the lake of Purgatory with the promise of a reawakening to glory.
This unique masterpiece was shared in a collaborative performance by the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, The Hartford Chorale, The Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut, and soloists Catherine Martin, Michael-Paul Knubitzer, and Douglas Williams.
Jennifer Osowiecki, MAT
The Hartford Chorale
Visit the following websites for more information about Elgar, Newman, and the poem Dream of Gerontius: