Friday, July 13, 2007

Joyful Death

That masterful negation
and collapse of all that makes me man.

- John Henry Newman in a poem set to music by Edward Elgar as The Dream of Gerontius

No, I'm not on my deathbed. I just attended the opening night gala of the Elora Festival.

The poet was a Roman Catholic cardinal and Elgar a staunch Catholic, but I have to wonder at the title. The work describes the death of Gerontius, followed by the judgement of his soul and its installment in purgatory, but the piece is called The Dream as if this is Gerontius's fantasy.

It also doesn't sound very Christian to say that death is the "collaspe of all that makes me man." Scholars may roll their eyes at my ignorance, but it's possible that a cardinal could be unwittingly unchristian. An author never completely understands the values he embeds in his works, and... paganism will out?

Christianity flourishes in Elgar's exuberant, joyful music depicting death. I'm not a believer but I like that attitude towards one's own demise. It is inevitable, natural, and unknowable, the thing that defines everything else we do, the ultimate. It does seem to be a state of grace to be able to embrace it.

I attended a full rehearsal before the performance, so got a double blast of the brilliance of Noel Edison, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Elora Festival Singers, Festival Orchestra, and soloists Kimberly Barber, Michael Colvin and Tyler Duncan. The music was sublime.

Noel Edison got in a good zinger during the rehearsal. After they rehearsed God Save the Queen, Noel said, "That one's for Conrad." (Conrad Black, aka Lord Black of Crossharbour, was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice today.)


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