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McGuire is much concerned with the different roles of the narrator in these works. Good points are made along the way, but the argument achieves real cogency only in relation to the biblical oratorios. The Light of Life is an admirable example of its type and has many Elgarian hallmarks; but we need not rate it higher than the composer did. In the case of Gerontius, McGuire points out that the cuts made to the Newman poem put additional emphasis on Part 1, though it cannot readily be known how far this was Elgar's responsibility or that of the Oratory. He is right to call the one 'a description of suffering', and its sequel a 'journey to revelation'. He draws a good parallel between Gurnemanz's leading Parsifal to the hall of the grail and the Angel's guidance of Gerontius through the courts of heaven. It is at least questionable whether Gerontius is Elgar's 'least elaborate' oratorio (I have never included it among the oratorios, simply because Elgar was dubious that was where it belonged); but undoubtedly it is the 'most popular'. I am grateful for an observation I should have noticed years ago: Dyke's tune to 'Praise to the Holiest in the height' assumes eight syllables for the line, as doubtless did Newman. Elgar, on the other hand, gives 'Holiest' three syllables (in tribute to the Trinity?), making a total of nine, thus reinforcing the point he made to 'Dorabella' of the 'Enigma' Variations and cocking a snook at those who expected him to make use of Dyke in his setting.

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Copyright © 29 December 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK


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