Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > The Redemption - Gounod
"The Redemption, a Sacred Trilogy," is the title which Gounod gave to this work, and on its opening page he wrote: "The work of my life." It was first heard in America in the winter of 1883-1884 under Theodore Thomas direction, and was one of the prominent works in his series of festivals in the latter year.
The prologue comprises the Mosaic account of the creation and fall of man, involving the necessity of divine mediation, the promise of redemption, and the annunciation of the mystery of the incarnation of the Holy Virgin. After a brief instrumental introduction, descriptive of chaos, the tenor narrator announces the completion of creation in recitative, followed by a similar declamation from the bass narrator announcing the fall of man, the tenor narrator answering with the announcement of the Redeemers advert ("But of the spotless Lamb").
The first part includes the march to Calvary, which is divided into six separate numbers, yet so connected as to make a single musical series -- the crucifixion, Mary at the foot of the cross, the dying thieves, the death of Jesus, and the confession of His divinity by the centurion. It opens with the story of the condemnation of the Man of Sorrows by Pilate, told by the bass narrator, the words of Jesus Himself, however, being used invariably in the first person, and sung by the baritone voice. After another monologue by the narrator, ensues the march to the cross -- an instrumental number which is brilliant in its color effects and somewhat barbaric in tone. Without any break, the sopranos enter with the words ("Forth the royal Banners go"), set to a melody from the Roman Catholic liturgy; after which the march is resumed. The bass narrator tells the story of the women who followed lamenting, interrupted by a semi-chorus of sopranos singing the lament, and by the words of Jesus ("Ye Daughters of Israel, weep not for me"). Again the march is heard, and the sopranos resume ("Fourth the royal Banners go"). The tenor narrator recites the preparation for the crucifixion, accompanied by descriptive music and followed by a stormy chorus of the people ("Ha! Thou that didst declare"), and the mocking cries of the priests ("Can He now save Himself?"), sung by a male chorus. In a pathetic monologue Jesus appeals for their pardon, which leads to an elaborate concerted number for chorus or quartet, called "The Reproaches." A conversation ensues between Jesus and Mary, followed by the quartet ("Beside the Cross remaining"), in canon form, preluding the chorale ("While my Watch I am keeping"), at first sung by Mary, and then taken up by the full chorus, accompanied by organ, trombones, and trumpets. The next scene is that between Jesus and the two thieves, which also leads to a chorale ("Lord Jesus, Thou to all bringest Light and Salvation"). This number contains the last touch of brightness in the first part. Immediately the bass narrator announces the approach of the awful tragedy. The gathering darkness is pictured by a vivid passage in strings and clarinet, succeeded by the agonizing cries of the Savior. The bass narrator declares the consummation of the tragedy, and then with the tenor narrator describes the throes of Nature ("And then the Air was filled with a Murmur unwonted"), the rending of the veil of the Temple, the breaking of the rocks, the earthquake, and the visions of the saintly apparitions. The last number is the conviction of the centurion, followed by a short chorale ("For us the Christ is made a Victim availing").
The second part opens with a chorus for the mystic choir ("Savior of Men"), followed by a short pastoral with muted strings and leading to a trio for the three women ("How shall we by ourselves have Strength to roll away the Stone?"). Their apprehensions are removed by the tenor narrator and the message of the Angel interwoven with the harp and conveyed in the beautiful aria ("Why seek ye the Living among the Dead?"). Jesus at last reveals Himself to the women with the words ("All hail! Blessed are ye Women"), accompanied by the typical melody, of which mention has already been made. The three women disappear on the way to convey His message to the disciples, and the scene changes to the Sanhedrim, where, in a tumultuous and agitated chorus for male voices ("Christ is risen again"), the story of the empty tomb is told by the watchers. The bass narrator relates the amazement of the priests and elders, and their plot to bribe the guard, leading to the chorus for male voices ("Say ye that in the Night His Disciples have come and stolen Him away"), at the close of which ensues a full, massive chorus ("Now, behold ye the Guard, this, your sleep-vanquished Guard"), closing with the denunciation in unison ("For Ages on your Heads shall Contempt be outpoured"). The tenor and bass narrators in duet tell of the sorrow of the disciplines, which prepares the way for a lovely trio for first and second soprano and alto ("The Lord He has risen again"). The next number is one of the most effective in the whole work -- a soprano obligato solo ("From Thy love as a Father"), accompanied by the full strength of chorus and orchestra. Then follows a dialogue between the Savior and His Apostles, in which He gives them their mission to the world. The Finale begins with a massive chorus ("Unfold, ye Portals everlasting"). The celestial chorus above, accompanied by harps and trumpets, inquire ("But who is He, the King of Glory?"). The answer comes in a stately unison by the terrestrial chorus ("He who Death overcame"). Again the question is asked, and again it is answered; whereupon the two choirs are massed in the jubilant chorus ("Unfold! for lo the King comes nigh!"), the full orchestra and organ sounding the Redemption melody, and the whole closing with a fanfare of trumpets.
The third part opens with a brief chorus ("Lovely appear over the mountains"), followed by a soprano solo, the only distinct number of that kind in the work, set to the words ("Over the barren wastes shall Flowers have Possession"), at its close the chorus resuming in unison ("Lovely appear over the Mountains"). The next number is ("The Apostles in Prayer"), an instrumental sketch, followed by the narrators relating the descent of the Holy Spirit. Without break the Apostles hymn begins, tenors and basses in unison ("The Word is Flesh become"), leading into the quartet of solo voices ("By Faith Salvation comes, and by Peace, Consolation"). The chorus responds antiphonally, and again the solo voices are heard in a lovely quartet ("He has said to all the Unhappy"), followed by a small choir of thirty voices ("Blessed are the Poor in Spirit"), at the end of which all the voices are massed on the Apostles hymn, which closes in fugal form on the words ("He, like the Holy Ghost, is one with the Father, an everlasting Trinity"), the whole ending in massive chords.