Elgar, Edward

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Elgar, Edward

Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, A cantata for soprano, tenor and bass soloists, choir and orchestra (Vocal score with English text)

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Elgar, Edward – Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, A cantata for soprano, tenor and bass soloists, choir and orchestra (Vocal score with English text)

For more information about the piece read the preface to the full score:

A cantata for soprano, tenor and bass soloists, choir and orchestra

Elgar wrote this – his second major choral work – at the request of Dr. Charles Swinnerton Heap, the conductor and founder of the North Staffordshire Music Festival. Elgar chose a libretto based on Henry Wadswoth Longfellow’s epic poem, which was adapted by H. C. Acworth. The cantata comprises a prologue, nine scenes and an epilogue and was first performed at the Victoria Hall, Hanley, 0n 30 October 1896, conducted by the composer.

It tells the story of the life, battles and eventual death of the medieval knight King Olaf of Norway. While performed regularly in the years immediately following its composition, it was largely neglected until the 1970s.

King Olaf contains some of Elgar’s most engaging melodies and is perhaps his best pre-Enigma Variations composition, foreshadowing the great oratorios that were to follow. The forceful first scene, The Challenge of Thor, is probably the most easily assimilated but The Wraith of Odin, the lilting duet between Thyri and Olaf, The Grey Land Breaks to Lively Green, and the jolly chorus, A Little Bird in the Air all have considerable appeal. But Elgar saves the best music for the epilogue. A recapitulation of a number of earlier themes leads into the unaccompanied final chorus, As Torrents in Summer – which has always enjoyed popularity among choral societies as a separate song – bringing the work to a moving climax which Elgar hardly equalled in any of his later works.

One young man who was greatly moved by the first performance was the 23-year-old Havergal Brian, eventual composer of 32 symphonies, who remained a lifelong champion of Elgar.

Phillip Brookes. 2023

For performance material please contact Novello, London. Reprint of a copy from the collection Phillip Brookes, Roxas City.

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