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For McGuire the two biblical oratorios are concerned essentially with the development and revelation of character. I personally can happily pass by Elgar's treatment of both Mary Magdalene and Judas; but Peter and John are another matter. McGuire manages a convincing conclusion to his investigation of the narrator's function throughout the four works when he observes that in the last scene of The Kingdom Peter and John take over the task themselves, while Elgar slightly adjusts the bible to let them do so. After the coming of the Holy Ghost, they are fully in charge of events. Elgar had indeed achieved his object : men perhaps 'not cleverer than some of you here', as Elgar's schoolmaster had said, were indeed now central to a religious movement that would engulf the world. In his heart of hearts Elgar must have known he need not plod on from Jerusalem to Antioch. During the reading of the book I have occasionally felt tempted to identify with 'The People' and their misprint so as to ask 'for a murder to be granted to us'; but there is nothing here that a sharp dose of self-criticism should not cure.

Copyright © 29 December 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK


Charles Edward McGuire
Elgar's Oratorios: the Creation of an Epic Narrative
Ashgate Publishing, 2002
xvi, 339pp. ISBN 0-7546-0271-0


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