Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Turn of the 20th Century > The Kingdom - Elgar
"The Kingdom," which was written for the Birmingham Festival of 1906, is a continuation of the composer's scheme as first displayed in "The Apostles." It has four solo parts: the Virgin Mary, soprano; Mary Magdalene, alto; Saint John, tenor; and Saint Peter, bass. The chorus alternately fills the part of the disciples, the holy women and the people. In one passage there is also a mystic chorus.
The composer has constructed this work upon typical themes in the Wagnerian manner. There are seventy-eight of them in its contents, some of them from "The Apostles" appearing with the rest in the prelude called "Jerusalem." The first division of the work is called "In the upper Room," and follows the prelude without break. It opens with a quartet and chorus ("Seek first the Kingdom of God") in which the disciplines call upon their followers to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Eucharist service is held, in which appears an antiphonal melody ("O sacrum Convivium"), followed by an outburst of praise and an elaborate Amen. In a second section lots are cast for a successor to Judas. There is a chorus of disciples pronouncing execration upon his memory ("Let his Habitation be desolate"), and after this a solo quartet in which the chorus eventually joins, declaring that the lot has fallen upon Saint Matthias.
The second division shows the two Marys at "The Beautiful Gate." It is a short, graceful idyllic scene in which only the two participate. Their duet ("The Singers are before the Altar") is made all the more impressive by some of the motives from "The Apostles," notably the melody sung by the watchers on the roof. The third division, "Pentecost," with its subdivision, "In Solomon's Porch," is the longest and most elaborate section of the work. The descent of the Holy Ghost and the symbolizing of "tongues parting asunder like as of fire" are brought out powerfully by the use of the mystic soprano and contralto chorus and the descriptiveness of the thrilling and picturesque accompaniment heightened by the organ. In the scene "In Solomon's Porch," where the people express their surprise at the Galileans speaking in other tongues, the composer displays an extraordinary control of technique in expressing the situation. Peter's address ("Ye Men of Judea") follows, succeeded by an invocation to the Holy Spirit, which makes an impressive climax to the scene.
The fourth division, "The Sign of Healing," includes "At the Beautiful Gate," and "The Arrest." The music of the first section, describing the healing of the lame man at the gate and Peter and John's appeal to the people, is of a quiet, peaceful nature but changes in "The Arrest" scene where the disciples are apprehended because they proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Mary's soliloquy ("The Sun goeth down"), in which two Hebrew hymns are utilized, is the feature of this scene. Though first expressed in a calm, tranquil manner, with subdued accompaniment, it reaches an impassioned climax in the Finale.
The fifth division, "The Upper Room," closes the oratorio. It opens with an expression of Joy by the disciples and holy women ("The voice of Joy is in the Dwelling of the Righteous"), leading to the scene of the "The Breaking of Bread," which is simple, yet very expressive. After its climax the voices softly declaim the Lord's Prayer, closing upon "For ever and ever, Amen" in a powerful climax. A chorus of a solemn nature ("Thou, O Lord, art our Father") brings the oratorio to its close.