Elgar's original score of Gerontius revealed

By on 12/08/2010 in Culture, News

An original musical manuscript written by Edward Elgar is to be revealed for the first time since the composer presented it, with a dedication in memory of Cardinal John Henry Newman, to the Birmingham Oratory in 1902.

The score for the Dream of Gerontius has been taken out of storage as tickets go on sale for a concert of Elgar's famous oratorio, at Birmingham Town Hall. It will be performed before the general public, Bishops and dignitaries who will be in the city on the eve of the Beatification of Cardinal Newman on Saturday 18th September.  A copy of the score will be on display at the concert for visitors to view.

The composer presented the original manuscript to the Oratory, after he had premiered the oratorio at Birmingham Town Hall in 1900, when he replaced it with a printed version which was better for conducting from.

Elgar himself recorded in the dedicatory inscription, “in memory of Cardinal Newman whose poem I have had the honour to attempt to set to music”. On the final page of the score he also inscribed, “this is the best of me…” and always thought it his finest work.

The oratorio of ‘The Dream’ sets Cardinal Newman’s text into a composition by Elgar and was completed in 1900, first being performed at the Birmingham Triennial Festival that year.

Cllr Alan Rudge, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Human Resources and Birmingham City Council lead fro for the Papal Visit said: “The visit by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is a huge honour for Birmingham and this is a great opportunity to show the world the richness of our history and culture with this extraordinary concert of Elgar's famous Oratorio dedicated to Cardinal Newman on the eve of his beatification.”  

The oratorio was a commission but the choice of poem was Edgar's own. Cardinal Newman’s extended poem on the journey of a man’s soul from death to purgatory was an appropriate choice for a big work for Birmingham since Newman had lived here 45 years until his death only ten years earlier.

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Media Contact : Jason Lewis 0121 303 4266 jason.lewis@birmigham.gov.uk or Sarah.Kirby 0121 303 3885 sarah.kirby@birmingham.gov.uk

Notes to Editors


Sat 18 Sep 5:30pm
Town Hall
Ticket prices: £10, £25, £50 and £75

Ex Cathedra XL Choir and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) reprise their critically-acclaimed period performance of The Dream of Gerontius to celebrate the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

This performance will be attended by many distinguished guests staying in the city for the beatification of Cardinal Newman the following day.


Newman’s poem tells the story of a soul’s journey through death, and provides a meditation on the unseen world of Roman Catholic theology. Gerontius is a devout everyman.

In the first part, we hear Gerontius as a dying man of faith. A group of friends join him in prayer and meditation. He passes in peace, and a priest, with the assistants, sends him on his way with a valediction.

In the second part, Gerontius, now referred to as “The Soul”, awakes in a place apparently without space or time, and becomes aware of the presence of his guardian angel. After a long dialogue, they journey towards the judgment throne.

They safely pass a group of demons, and encounter choirs of angels, eternally praising God for His grace and forgiveness. The Angel of the Agony pleads with Jesus to spare the souls of the faithful. Finally Gerontius glimpses God and is judged in a single moment. The Guardian Angel lowers Gerontius into the soothing lake of purgatory, with a final benediction and promise of a re-awakening to glory.

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