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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”. However, it is virtually unknown elsewhere – Elgar’s name is associated above all with his immortal Enigma Variations. Comparisons are often used to make the oratorio more accessible to the public – but these only partially get to the heart of the work. Richard 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 Richard 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”.

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