Last night, following the beatification conference was a performance of The Dream of Gerontius at Birmingham Town Hall. Newman's poem set to Edward Elgar's music first premièred in this venue one hundred and ten years ago.
Elgar was clearly very proud of work and felt it an "honour to attempt to set it to music." At the end of the score which he presented to the Birmingham Oratory he wrote "This is the best of me."
Written in 1865 The Dream of Gerontius tells the story of man near to death and the journey of his soul after his death, you can find the text here. Newman wrote of it "On the 17th of January last it came into my head to write it, I really cannot tell how. And I wrote on till it was finished on small bits of paper, and I could no more write anything else by willing it than I could fly. These were probably for the waste-paper basket.
Richard Hutton in his biography of Newman said "The Dream of Gerontius though an imaginative account of a Catholic's death, touches all the beliefs and hopes which had been the mainstay of Newman's life, and the chief subjects of his waking thoughts and most vivid impressions. It is impossible to read it without recognizing especially that Newman had always and steadily conceived life as a Divine gift held absolutely at God's will, not only in regard to its duration, but also in regard to the mode and conditions of its tenure."
The programme for the event told us "Newman, like his patron St Philip, was well aware of the power of music to express the most profound ideas and draw people to God. Indeed he was himself a talented musician."
The event was well attended with special guests including the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent. In opening the event Father Richard Duffield Provost of Birmingham Oratory commented that the opportunity to hear one of Newman's great works was excellent preparation for the following day's beatification.
The performance was given by Birmingham's Ex Cathedra choir and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment who use period instruments.
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