Elgar, Newman and the Dream of Gerontius: In the Tradition of English Catholicism/Edward Elgar: A Source Book

By Walker, Alan | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Elgar, Newman and the Dream of Gerontius: In the Tradition of English Catholicism/Edward Elgar: A Source Book


Walker, Alan, Canadian University Music Review


Percy Young. Elgar, Newman and The Dream of Gerontius: In The Tradition of English Catholicism. Aldershot, Hampshire: Scolar Press, 1995. 162 pp. ISBN 0-85967-877-6 (hardcover).

Stewart R. Craggs. Edward Elgar: A Source Book. Aldershot, Hampshire: Scolar Press, 1995. 188 pp. ISBN 0-85967-920-9 (hardcover).

Cardinal Newman was the nineteenth century's most famous convert to Roman Catholicism. As an Anglican cleric, and one of Oxford's leading intellectuals, he had preached sermons describing Rome as "the whore of Babylon." When the conversion came it was spectacular. Rome offered him the diocese of Westminster, its highest position in England, and Newman thereafter exercised an unparalleled influence in Catholic affairs.

It is often said that Elgar was given Newman's poem The Dream of Gerontius on his wedding day, but we know that he was familiar with the work long before that. It had already achieved some fame through the murder of the religious mystic General Gordon of Kartoum, whose death had roused the nation and had forced a reluctant Gladstone to send in the British army to avenge him. Gordon's personal copy of Gerontius was found among his possessions, with certain passages of the text underlined. These underlinings were widely publicised and Elgar made a note of them: he even passed them on to others, including his future wife, Carolyne Alice Robertson.

Gerontius is an intensely Catholic work. It tells of the death and spiritual journey of a Christian soul as it progresses towards Heaven, its encounter with purgatory, with angels, and its glimpse of God. The words brought forth from Elgar some of his most enduring music which established him as England's greatest composer. Yet the circumstances surrounding the first performance were less than auspicious. The work was a failure when it was first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in 1900, under the baton of Hans Richter. Elgar was especially critical of the singers; he noted that they hardly seemed to know their parts and the ensemble was ragged. In retrospect we now understand that much of the blame rested with Elgar himself who finished the work at break-neck speed and did not give the performers enough time to rehearse. Richter redeemed the situation two years later when he took the work to the Lower Rhine Music Festival in Dusseldorf and, in the presence of Elgar, secured a resounding triumph. Richard Strauss was in the audience, and during the Festival he made a public speech in which he recognized Elgar as an English musical genius of the front rank. England was amazed; it did not know that it had one.

Unlike Cardinal Newman, Elgar was born a Catholic. He was brought up in the small Worcester town of Broadheath, where his father kept a local music shop and played the organ at St. George's Church. Surrounded by scores and musical instruments from his earliest youth, Elgar was virtually self-taught and, by the time he was in his teens, he was already playing the organ and sometimes composing for the church service. The Catholic Church provided him with his first musical opportunities. Yet it was the very fact of his being a Catholic, in a vastly Protestant England, that gave Elgar the lifelong feeling that he was an outsider. And that is how he was at first treated by the British musical establishment. He was forty-two years old before he made any mark on the national scene through his "Enigma" variations.

Meanwhile he earned a meagre living by teaching in and around Worcester, conducting the staff band of the local lunatic asylum, arranging music for a variety of ensembles, and sometimes playing the violin in the orchestras of the Three Choirs Festivals. It was for him a wretched existence. He once said of teaching that it was like turning a grindstone with a dislocated shoulder.

Gerontius was without parallel in the long history of English choral music. For years Anglican composers in search of an identity had composed a stream of oratorios more or less in pale imitation of Mendelssohn's Elijah (the influential model for so much that later went wrong with the genre) for performance in the churches and cathedrals of Victorian England. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Elgar, Newman and the Dream of Gerontius: In the Tradition of English Catholicism/Edward Elgar: A Source Book
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.