The Kingdom - Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

 

Elgarís first oratorio, The Light of Life, opus 29 (1896), was an account of the blind beggar whose sight Christ restored, and originally Elgar intended to develop pursue New Testament themes for his next. In the summer of 1898, he was asked to provide a major work for the 1900 Birmingham Triennial Festival. His initial idea was an oratorio on the life of lives of the Apostles covering the calling of the Apostles, Jesus' betrayal by Judas, Peter's denial, the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Christian church in Jerusalem. However, a period of illness prevented him from making much progress and by the beginning of 1900 he had decided instead to set Cardinal Newmanís poem, The Dream of Gerontius for the

Festival. Elgar returned to the New Testament, when approached for a work for the 1903 Festival. He originally planned a three-part oratorio, but delayed by illness, and realising the scale of the work that would result, he sensibly decided to curtail the work at the Resurrection. He himself conducted the first performance of The Apostles at the Festival on 14 October 1903 (a wise move, considering his bad experience with an unsympathetic conductor for the first performance of Gerontius).

 

The rest, which he had already largely composed, became The Kingdom. It covers the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the foundation and early activities of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. Elgar makes Peter the focus of the work, providing a forceful and impressive role that contrasts with the rather underdeveloped role he gave him in The Apostles. The work combines much original thematic material (the soprano solo The Sun Goeth Down is particularly beautiful) but, as the two works are clearly complimentary, it also shares a number of themes with The Apostles and

follows the same leitmotif scheme.

 

The two are often performed in close succession, but The Kingdom stands as a masterpiece in its own right. Indeed, Elgar's close friend Frank Schuster confided to conductor Sir Adrian Boult that, compared with The Kingdom, he considered The Dream of Gerontius to be the work of a raw amateur! While many would argue with that assertion, The Kingdom contains some of Elgarís most stirring and inspirational music.

 

Elgar conduced the first performance at the Birmingham Festival on 3 October 1906. Like his other works on sacred themes, Elgar added the dedication it A M D G (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam Ė to the greater glory of God) at the top of the manuscript.

 

 

Peter Carey

Royal Free Singers, Windsor

[Note to other societies: you are welcome to use the whole or parts of this text in your own programmes, but if you do please include an acknowledgement to the Royal Free Singers.]