Rotten head cold. Well, at least it’s not the flu, right? That’s what I was afraid it was, Friday night when I began feeling really rotten – rotten, I mean, past the sinus junk that’s been annoying me all week before. By Saturday I felt somewhat reassured, I was just in for a head cold.
The disappointing thing is that I have no voice… well, what voice I have sounds awful, like my daddy used to say, “Like a dying cow in a hailstorm.” That cow is very weak by now.
And this is the week the Master Chorale is supposed to be singing with the NC Symphony – Edward Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. What! You haven’t heard of it? Not surprising. Few Americans have, I think.
It’s fascinating, especially for me as a Catholic. Elgar was Catholic, in the midst of Anglican England – and he took as his libretto a poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman, himself an Englishman (and a former Anglicn priest). The poetry is typically Victorian- a bit excessive if you know what I mean – but the theology is thrilling.
Gerontius (a tenor) is an old man. He is dying, and he knows it, and he sings about his state, his joy at seeing God, his fear of Judgment, his uncertainty about what really is awaiting him on the other side of the veil…. and the chorus is a group of the faithful, interceding for him, invoking the prayers of the angels, saints, holy virgins, and just about anyone else who might have a capacity to pray for a dying man. Then after a bit more reflection by the tenor solo – Gerontius – the chorus becomes a choir of angels, commanding Gerontius’ soul to “COME FORTH!” and it does, and he dies. And that’s the end of Part 1.
In Part 2, Gerontius is surprised to be able to see – it has to be his guardian angel – face to face for the first time. The angel is escorting him upward through the cosmos toward the Gates of Heaven, and explaining to him what is going to be happening. For some reason, the Angel is sung by a soprano, I think it is – I think Angels ought to be basso profundos, but maybe the contrast of men’s voices wasn’t stark enough?
Outside of heaven, Gerontius sees a crowd of demons (sung by… the chorus) – they accuse him “What’s a saint? one who taints the air with his breath before he dies….” and mock God, calling Him a tyrant and a despot. They taunt Gerontius but cannot touch him. Gerontius and his angel continue in. Gerontius sees the holy angels travelling back and forth – and the holy saints who are in the presence of God, worshipping and adoring God –
But he isn’t one of them yet. His Judgment occurs in an instant, and the angel is carrying him to still another place – Purgatory. We hear the saints-in-the-making, being purified in the Refiner’s Fire of Purgatory – and they are truly happy people. The most beautiful “hymn” in the whole piece is sung by the souls in Purgatory, “Oh, wisest Love, oh, Kindest Love….” they praise Almighty God.
The piece ends on a note of triumph: Gerontius may be in Purgatory, but that means his ultimate salvation has been secured and that he will be admitted into Heaven. The piece ends with a glorious hymn of praise to God.
It really is beautiful music, and so suitable for early Lent to my way of thinking…. and I won’t be able to sing it. Bummer!
Well, God works His will on us – my experience with the Master Chorale has been a glorious one, and I have made some splendid friends there. But the sense is growing in me that it is time to start living here, close to home, cultivating the interests and hobbies that will get me around people on a local level and give me a chance to have Real Life friends not just in Raleigh but down here as well – okay, more than I currently have?
More later. I’ve got to go get ready for work.