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Composing the 'Dream'...

Confusion and Royalties

Elgar's relationship with Novello and Co was complicated with disagreements over the royalty rates for Gerontius. George Hope Johnstone, Chairman of the Festival Committee, negotiated with Alfred Littleton, the publishing firm's director, that Novello would pay Elgar £200 for the transfer of the full rights. However Johnstone confused the details and Elgar understood that Novello would also pay a royalty fee on all sales once a figure of £200 had been surpassed.

Death of the Festival Choral Master

During May the festival’s Chorus Master, Dr Swinnerton Heap, died suddenly. His replacement was W.C. Stockley. Stockley came out of retirement to assist the Festival organisers but found himself at odds with the Wagnerian musical style set out by Elgar. The overtly Catholic nature of Gerontius was also a point of contention for the newly appointed Chorus Master. It also gave Elgar concern too.

Production and little preparation

Elgar delivered the first instalment of the work to Novello at the beginning of March 1900. There was nothing to rehearse from though, until Elgar submitted the completed work as a vocal score in June. The chorus parts were expected to be completed by July, but did not arrive until August. The orchestral parts were finally delivered in September. And only one copy of the full score existed! This needed to be shared between various parties, including Elgar, William Dodd (Novello’s copyist) and the engravers.

In addition to the lack of available practice time (for chorus and orchestra), rehearsals were hampered by the complexity of the work. Conductor Hans Richter was only able to get a view of the full score 10 days before the opening performance. He managed just one separate run through with the orchestra.

Elgar attended the only full rehearsal of Gerontius, which took place on Saturday 29 September 1900. The composer is said to have been dismayed at the number of problems evident in the interpretation and execution of the piece. A direct intervention on Elgar’s behalf led to the rehearsal’s cancellation.

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