Blessed John Henry Newman’s sublime poem The Dream of Gerontius, set to music by Sir Edward Elgar, was performed in Worcester Cathedral at the opening concert of the Three Choirs Festival 2011, on Saturday August 6, writes Peter Jennings.
It was a truly memorable and emotional evening. The Dream was a particularly appropriate and enormously popular choice of music for the start of this world-renowned annual festival.
Thursday August 11 was the 121st anniversary of the death of Blessed John Henry Newman. The great English cardinal died in his room at the Birmingham Oratory in Edgbaston in 1890, aged 89.
Besides this, the first anniversary of Cardinal Newman’s beatification by Pope Benedict XVI, at Cofton Park, Birmingham on Sunday September 19 2010 is a few weeks away. The event will be celebrated in England and in Rome.
The Dean of Worcester, the Very Rev Peter Atkinson, told the audience that he would say a short prayer as is the custom before concerts held in the Cathedral. In the quietness he said: “Praise to the Holiest in the height, And in the depth be praise!” This is the first line of Cardinal Newman’s most famous hymn.
Worcestershire-born Sir Edward Elgar received a copy of Blessed John Henry Newman’s poem as a wedding present when he married Alice Roberts on May 8 1889 at Brompton Oratory in London. Newman, a literary figure of great note, had written the poem during 1865.
The Committee of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival of 1990 commissioned Edward Elgar to set part of Cardinal Newman’s poem to music for soloists, chorus and orchestra.
The first performance took place in Birmingham Town Hall on October 3 but it was a year later in Germany that the work received the international recognition and attention that it so richly deserved.
Sir Edward Elgar was assistant organist to his father William Elgar, who held the post of organist at St George’s Catholic Church in Worcester from 1846 to 1885, and succeeded him for four years, from 1885 to 1889.