Music Webmaster: L.Mullenger@coventry.ac.uk ullenger
MY WIFE PEGGY AND MY ONE ORATORIO:
THE DAYTIME OF CHRIST
|The last great English oratorios were written by Elgar during the first
decade of the twentieth century. But who knows there may be a revival in
the 22nd century. In any case I follow my inner voices, but not what the
papers or the radio say.
I wrote a sonnet to celebrate the occasion:
ON AT LAST STARTING TO WRITE A WORK THAT HAD BEEN IN MIND FOR AT LEAST A QUARTER OF A CENTURY.
So the aim is to tell a success story and to concentrate on the splendid side of Christs life rather than mourn his misfortunes.
I start with the wedding at Cana of Galilee, and my aim was to bring this scene to life, where water should naturally be turned into wine by supernatural power.
The wedding songs, which are practically continuous throughout are made from the beautiful words of the Song of Songs.
he Ruler of the Feast occasionally leads them in. He calls for more wine in their cups which embarrasses the attendants, for there is no wine. Mary notices the shortage and calls on her wonderful Son to do something about it. He demurs. "My time has not yet come." But she insists. "Do what He tells you to do." Thus the water is made into wine. It is served to the Ruler. He calls for the Bridegroom to congratulate him on leaving the best wine until last.
Meanwhile the songs from the Song of Songs have kept the atmosphere of the wedding moving. The attendants look round for the young man who told them to fill the water cans with water, but He has gone.
The wedding songs continue, to form an interlude leading to the next scene. It is by Jacobs Well. Jesus asks for a drink and this surprises the Samaritan woman that a Jew should speak to her. This leads to a surprising friendship between Jews and Samaritans. One wonders whether this was the origin of the "Good Samaritan" in the later parable.
An orchestral interlude leads to the Third Scene. It is in the Temple at Jerusalem and Jesus is quietly teaching when some accusers burst in driving an unfortunate woman before them. They accuse the woman of adultery "taken in the very act". They remind Jesus that Moses says that such should be stoned. "But what do you say?" When He does not answer, they repeat what they have said. At last He rises from His apparent study of the ground. "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone." It is a devastating reply which neither contradicts Moses nor encourages this harsh punishment. One by one the accusers leave the Temple until Jesus and the woman are left alone.
The Interlude is scenic. A storm brews in the orchestra. The figure of Jesus is seen asleep, as in the hold of a ship. His Disciples come to Him and wake Him. "Master, does it matter nothing to you that we perish?" He gets up. "Peace. Be still." The storm subsides.
"What manner of man is this
that even the winds and the sea obey him?"
The Herdsmen are sitting as on a hillock. They are minding a great herd of swine that are not seen but heard grunting from time to time. Behind the scenes Legion is heard crying out from time to time. He is represented by three voices - a male alto, a tenor and a bass.
The Herdsmen see a ship approaching. It is Jesus and his Disciples. Legion (represented by the tenor alone) approaches Him as He lands, and pleads with Him that He will send the other voices into the swine.
To the dismay of the herdsmen the swine start rushing down the hill into the sea as they describe. They rush off to tell their masters what has happened.
Jesus lifts legion up from the ground where he has fallen at the moment when the Herdsmen started describing the rush of the swine.
Legion pleads with Jesus to be allowed to join His disciples, but Jesus bids him go back to his own country and tell them what has happened.
The owners of the swine arrive with the two Herdsmen and, seeing what has happened, try to urge Jesus to leave their country.
The Interlude between this and the next scene is an aria for Legion:
There is a second verse to this song at the end of which should come the interval. When we resume, we are again on the move. Perhaps this is more of a film opera than an oratorio, but I am still hopeful that it can be performed with the singers holding their scores. as in an oratorio.
I wanted the sound of a crowd murmuring in the background and thought to achieve this by directing that they should murmur the words of the wonderful Greek text from which this passage comes, but if this is too difficult then the chorus can always resort to the usual "rhubarb" and rhododendrons" or whatever is used for the imitation of a crowd sound.
While this is going on, Jairus comes and asks Jesus if He will come and cure his little daughter who is lying sick and on the point of death in his house.
While the crowd is still on the move. Veronica approaches and keeps trying to get closer and closer to the person of Jesus, for she believes that if she can only touch His garment she will be cured from her pernicious disease.
At last she does succeed in touching his clothes, but Jesus stops and asks "Who touched me?"
"You see the crowd" laughs the literal minded Peter, "and do you say who touched me?" But Veronica pours out nervously the story of her illness, only to be met with the kindly "Daughter, go in peace, and be free of that plague."
Jairuss servant comes to tell him that the little girl has died. "Why trouble the Master further?" Jairus looks at Jesus appealingly, who encourages him - "Only believe."
As they approach Jairuss home, the sound of mourners becomes louder and louder until it reaches a climax.
Jesus bids Peter and John to come with him and they follow Jairus into the house. They are met with a torrent of wailing from the mourners. "The maiden is not dead but sleeping." They laughed him to scorn but Jairus dismissed them.
At last peace is restored and Jairus with Jesus and the two disciples enter the room where the child is lying.
In an atmosphere of perfect peace Jesus sings the wonderful words "Talitha cumi, maiden I say unto thee, arise!" and He draws the little girl back to life. The Mother rushes to her "Oh my Darling! my Darling." Jairus says "Sir, I dont know how to thank you, I dont know what to say." - "Say nothing. Do nothing. Only give the glory to God." And then after a pause the wonderful homely words which convince me more than anything: Give her something to eat."
I remember hearing this marvellous scene recited by a brash school girl in the modern version. It ran; "Get up, my girl." All the magic had gone. I sometimes think that these modern versions are designed to prevent people from becoming Christians. What could be more convincing than the beautiful "Talitha, cumi, maiden I say unto thee arise," and the final "Give her something to eat."
I feel particularly proud of the next episode - the raising of Lazarus The whole scene is based on the theme of the Mediaeval Play of Lazarus, which in that play comes over and over again throughout the action. I have substituted for this a Theme and 21 Variations.
The first four variations take place in Galilee where Jesus is explaining to His disciples why He wants to go to Jerusalem where Lazarus is "sleeping" Literal-minded Peter takes this as ordinary sleeping. "If he sleeps he does well." Jesus has to explain that he has died. "And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there."
Variations V-VII are purely orchestral, describing the journey to Judaea, with references to the Second Scene because they must needs pass through Samaria."
The meeting with Martha occurs at Variation IX and Variation X brings the wonderful:
Marthas reply is Variation XI and then we get the enquiry: "Where is Mary? Go and fetch her."
Martha finds Mary sitting among the Chorus of Mourners "The Master is here and is asking for you," she whispers to her. (Variation XII) The Chorus of Mourners think that she has gone to the grave to mourn there and decide to follow her (Variation XIII). The meeting between Mary and Jesus is Variation XIV. "Lord, if you had been here, My brother had not died" occurs at Variation XIV. "Where have you laid him?" - "Come and see."
At this point the Chorus of Mourners catch up with Mary. They notice how moved Jesus is. "Look how He loved him" ("Jesus wept").
Variation XV: Chorus
"Could not this man
We come to the tomb.
"Take away the stone."
Martha (anxiously): "Lord by this time, he stinketh for he has been dead four days."
Jesus: "Did I not tell you
And then Jesus Prayer. Variation XVII
Variation XIX. There is now heard very high on a solo violin the theme, while the rest of the orchestra play some rising chords in the middle register.
Jesus (in the middle of this Variation): Lazarus, come forth. The music continues rising. At last the figure of a man bound head and foot grave clothes and his face bound about with a napkin appears slowly from the tomb. For a moment the people can hardly believe it and are afraid of touching him. (Variation XX)
Jesus: Loose him and let him go.
Chorus: Great is Thy love (Variation XXI)
The rest is Jesus journey to Jerusalem on the back of an ass, with disciples strewing the way with branches and with cries of "Hosanna to the Son of David", the entry into the Temple, upsetting the money-changers and the dove-sellers, the healing of the blind boy within the Temple and the confrontation with the Chief Priests: "By what authority do you do these things and who gave you this authority?"
He replies with the brilliant: "I also will ask you one thing and answer me; the baptism of John, was it from Heaven or of men?"
He knows they dare not answer this. So He can say "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
It is a success story. A tale of triumph.
"I will not follow suit, but will essay
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