As the BBC once said in the introduction to a concert, Edward Elgar’s oratorio The Dream of Gerontius is seen in Great Britain as a “national monument”. While the work enjoys nearly the same esteem as Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah in its native land, almost every performance abroad is seen as a rediscovery. And it is to such that the Berliner Philharmoniker and conductor Daniel Barenboim invite you with this concert.
To make The Dream of Gerontius comprehensible to audiences, comparisons are often drawn – but these only partially go to the core of the work. Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration is comparable, according to some: As with Elgar, it is about someone dying who ultimately achieves heavenly bliss, but in contrast to Strauss, it is not about fighting and heroism, but a spiritual vision of the transition to the afterlife.
Parallels are also often drawn to Wagner’s music, which Elgar revered. The through-composed structure is doubtlessly inspired by Wagner in that there is no division into arias and choruses. And there are also some elements reminiscent of Parsifal. Overall, however, The Dream of Gerontius is a completely independent composition with an individual musical language and a penetrating power of faith. One of the first continental Europeans who recognised the value of the oratorio was, incidentally, Richard Strauss, who after a performance, praised Elgar as “the first English progressive musician”.