Elgar, Gerontius and LCS… Part 2!

Hot on the heels of our Gerontius story on Elgar and LCS tenor Kath Geraghty, is our piece on Elgar’s links with soprano Morwenna Orton and bass John Chisholm… read on to find out more!

Kath’s grandfather Philip and Sir Edward already knew each other before the tour, having been introduced at the 1899 Three Choirs Festival by a relative of Philip who happened to be a friend of Elgar. It was then that the composer had conducted a revised version of his new orchestral work the Enigma Variations, and which was to help make Elgar’s name both in Britain and abroad.

The composer dedicated it to “my friends depicted within”, identifying those friends only with initials or nicknames (such as Nimrod, the biblical hunter, for his publisher August Jaeger whose German surname means hunter). The dedication of the penultimate variation was however only marked with three asterisks.

It is now believed that this was to represent the initials of Lady Mary Trefusis (née Lygon), a lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary, a music patron, a leading light in the English Folk Dance & Song Society – and a personal friend of Edward Elgar and his wife. Furthermore, Lady Mary happens to be the grandmother of LCS soprano Morwenna Orton!

The story regarding the asterisks is that Elgar had written to seek Lady Mary’s permission to dedicate the movement to her, but there was no time for a reply as the prospective dedicatee was setting sail with her brother for New South Wales where he had been appointed Governor. Accordingly, the movement contains an appropriate quotation from Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea & Prosperous Voyage – perhaps to speed Elgar’s friend on her way?

One more link between an LCS member and a momentous performance of The Dream of Gerontius is closer to our own time. LCS bass John Chisholm was a Cambridge undergraduate in 1971, and a member of the University Musical Society Chorus.

Benjamin Britten – not previously known as an admirer of Elgar’s music, was persuaded to conduct the choir in a performance of Gerontius in both Cambridge and Aldeburgh. It became an iconic interpretation, with Peter Pears, Alfreda Hodgson and Benjamin Luxon as the soloists. The New York Times called the Aldeburgh performance “faithful, unaffected and well-proportioned” and added that the chorus “was excellent”.

And so, Kath, Morwenna and John are now hoping – in the light of this illustrious history – that they and the rest of the choir will once again be able to do justice to this splendid work on the 17th of March at Goldsmiths!

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