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The Kingdom (1901–06)

Jesus on the Cross

Synopsis – The Kingdom

In The Kingdom Elgar set about telling the story of the acts of the disciples after Jesus’s ascension, taking most of his text from the first four chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, and adding some extra lines from the Gospels.

The opening’s an orchestral prelude depicting Jerusalem, and it introduces St Peter, who reflects on the denial of Christ, and then gathers strength for the duties that await him.

The Prelude runs straight into Part One, which Elgar calls ‘In the Upper Room’, where St Peter greets St John and the two holy women – the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. Together they remember Jesus, and quote his remarks ‘where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I’.

Part Two takes place ‘At the Beautiful Gate’ on the morning of Pentecost; and, on seeing a lame man, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene reminisce on how Jesus healed the blind and lame.

Part Three returns to the Upper Room, and the tenor soloist, assuming the role of narrator, reflects on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and granted the Apostles the power to be understood in every language. Peter recalls God’s promise to pour forth his spirit, reminding the Apostles that ‘whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’. Peter exhorts the people to be baptized in the name of Christ, and Part Three ends with a rousing chorus.

Part Four begins with a section called The Sign of Healing which opens with a tranquil interlude. We’re at the Gate of the Temple, and Peter and John see the lame man the women had seen earlier. They command him to rise up and walk, and people marvel at witnessing this miracle. Peter and John preach to the crowd, proclaiming Jesus’s resurrection – not a popular move with some of the local officialdom, and the two are arrested.

There follows a nocturnal interlude where Mary sings The Sun Goeth Down. As evening falls around her, she meditates on the wonders she has witnessed.

The final section of the Kingdom is subtitled ‘In Fellowship’ and returns to where the piece started – the Upper Room. Saints Peter and John recount the story of their arrest and interrogation. Together they take Holy Communion, and the Lord’s Prayer is heard. The Kingdom doesn’t end in a blaze of glory – the closing music is gracious and gentle – a serene acceptance of God’s love. 
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