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
follows the same
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
Elgarís most stirring and inspirational music.