Friday Performance Pick – 118

Elgar, Lux Aeterna

elgarYou may recognize this piece as “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. It is also often performed as a stand-alone work.

Writing in The New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians about the Enigma Variations, Diana McVeagh says:

“Nimrod,” the Adagio core of the work, drops with serious, intimate effect from a single sustained G to the key of E-flat. “Nimrod” is among Elgar’s most impassioned utterances, a great-hearted melody, the 7ths built by characteristic sequences into a magnificent long crescendo, the climax diffusing gently to end in humility.

That’s a pretty good description of why this particular variation has gained such popularity. Its chorale style makes it possible to arrange for many different ensembles, and you can find quite a variety of arrangements on YouTube. The arrangement featured here is by John Cameron for eight-voice vocal ensemble. While a chorale style would normally lend itself well to voices, the melodic line in this work is characterized by wide leaps (the 7ths described above) and rather difficult to sing. The greater difficulty, however, lies in blending the voices and maintaining control over the emotional arch of the work. The British ensemble Voces8 manages to do all of those things very well. I have been listening to a number of recordings by this group of singers, and I suspect I will be featuring them again before long.

The text Lux Aeterna comes from the Communion antiphon in the Requiem Mass (the liturgy for the dead).

Lux æterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in æternum,
quia pius es.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis;
cum Sanctis tuis in æternum,
quia pius es.
May everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord,
with your Saints forever,
for you are kind.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and may everlasting light shine upon them;
with your Saints forever,
for you are merciful.