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The Light of Life

Edward Elgar
(1857-1934)



"The Light of Life," sometimes called a cantata, but by the composer himself a short oratorio, the text by Rev. E. Capel-Cure, was first performed at the Worcester (England) Musical Festival, September, 1896. The libretto has for its theme the miracle of the man who was born blind. The solo parts are assigned as follows; soprano, mother of the blind man; contralto, narrator; tenor, the blind man; baritone, the Master.

The work opens with a meditation for orchestra, which is distinctly melodious -- a characteristic not always found in Sir Edward Elgar's oratorios. The first vocal number is a male chorus ("Seek Him") sung by the Levites in the Temple courts, leading to a short tenor solo ("O Thou, in Heaven's Dome") in which the blind man prays for light. No. 3 is a short recitative for the narrator, leading to a chorus of the Disciples ("Who did sin"). In No. 4, an expressive soprano solo ("Be not extreme"), the mother of the blind man declares that her son has not been punished for the sins of others. This is followed by recitative ("Neither hath this Man sinned") sung by the Master and leading to a massive but simple chorus, at times melodious, and again harmonious ("Light out of Darkness"). When this is closed, the story is resumed. The eyes of the blind man are anointed and he is told to wash in the Pool of Siloam. No. 8 ("Doubt not thy Father's Care") is an expressive chorus for sopranos and altos, followed by an ensemble, No. 9, of extraordinary instrumental effectiveness, in which the blind man is questioned by his neighbours as to the miracle. It is unusually strong and dramatic, working up through a fughetta to an eight-part climax. In No. 10 ("As a Spirit didst Thou pass") the blind man tells his story, which is followed by a vigorous choral dialogue between the Pharisees. No. 12 ("Thou only hast the Words of Life") is an arietta for the narrator. In No. 13, a new dramatic situation is brought out effectively by the orchestra in which the doubting Jews question the mother and the blind man. A beautiful solo and chorus by women ("Woe to the Shepherds of the Flock") follows, leading to a dialogue between the Master and the man He had healed, which closes with the most effective vocal number in the work -- a solo for the Master ("I am the good Shepherd"). The chorus ("Light of the World"), a brief but triumphant expression of faith, closes the oratorio.





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