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Felix Mendelssohn, Elijah, an Oratorio
Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
Steven Zork, baritone (Elijah)
Julie Penner, soprano (Widow & an Angel)
Georgina Zambrano, mezzo-soprano (an Angel & Queen Jezebel)
Charles Reid, tenor (Obadiah)
Tyler Ronto, boy-soprano (Youth)
April 27, 2013
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Elijah: an Oratorio
Recitative - Elijah “As the Lord God”
As in the biblical narrative recorded in the first book of Kings, Elijah suddenly appears before Ahab, King of Israel, introduced by four ominous orchestral chords. The prophet warns, in the name of God, that there will be no dew or rain unless, He, God, will send it. The curse of the drought theme is heard in both the vocal and wind parts.
Orchestral tone painting makes us feel the increasing devastation that the drought has wrecked on the land. The music builds, as does the desperation of the people, and flows directly into the first chorus.
Chorus & Recitative - the People “Help, Lord”
As they cry to the Lord for help with pleas that they not be destroyed, the people describe the lack of harvests and the bounty of summer and plead, “Will then the Lord be no more in Zion?” A bleak choral recitative describes the stark landscape, the dried up water sources, parched babies, and hungry children with no one able to feed them.
Duet - (soprano & mezzo-soprano) with Chorus “Lord, bow thine ear”
The people continue their litany of supplication, while the soloists describe how Zion asks for aid, but there is no one to help.
Recitative & Air - Obadiah “If with all your hearts”
The prophet implores the people to search their hearts for their sins and worship of false gods and return to God as he is patient, kind and gracious and will forgive. Obadiah’s message of hope is an invitation to seek God with all their hearts. He has promised forgiveness and together all may find Him and seek invitation to enter into His presence.
Chorus the People “Yet doth the Lord”
Not yet convinced of their need for reform, the people lament that the Lord is mocking them, His curse is upon them, His wrath pursues them until they are destroyed. In a more contemplative chorale-like statement, the people admit that the Lord is a jealous God visiting the sins of fathers on the children and to the third and fourth generations. But they finally acknowledge that His mercies are bestowed on those that love Him and keep His commandments.
Recitative - an Angel (mezzo-soprano) “Elijah, get thee hence”
As the impact of the drought affects Elijah as well as the rest of Israel, an angel directs him to Cherith’s brook, where there will be enough water for him and ravens will be sent to bring him nourishment.
Double quartet - Angels “For He shall give His Angels Charge”
The angels intone the promise of Psalm 91 that the Lord sends His angels to protect, guide and uphold.
Recitative - Angel (mezzo-soprano) “Now Cherith’s brook”
The drought has become so severe that even the Cherith has dried up. The angel now directs Elijah to travel to the village of Zarepath and to dwell with a widow who, in exchange for hospitality, will have food to sustain them.
Recitative, Air & Duet - the Widow & Elijah “What have I to do with thee”
Tragedy comes to the widow and her son. The boy is stricken with a sudden illness and dies. The widow feels that somehow it is her sins that are being punished when she has done her best to serve God and offer hospitality. She cries to Elijah for help. The prophet asks her to bring her son to him and three times prays for his life to be restored. After the third prayer, the widow exclaims that the Lord has heard the prophet’s prayer and her son has revived. She now affirms that Elijah is a man of God, that he speaks the truth, and asks how she can render thanks for all the Lord’s benefits to her. In thanksgiving they proclaim together to love the Lord with the whole heart, soul and might, and in these actions, those that fear Him are blessed.
Chorus “Blessed are the men who fear Him”
With simplicity, the chorus comments on the blessings and peace afforded those who love the Lord. When life is darkest, He offers light, and is generous with graciousness and compassion.
Recitative - Elijah, Ahab & the People “As God the Lord of Sabaoth”
Three long years of drought have passed and Elijah again appears before Ahab. The king asks if Elijah is the one who has brought trouble to Israel, but Elijah replies that it is Ahab and his father’s house and their rejection of God that have brought the trouble upon themselves. The prophet calls for Ahab to command the people and the priests of Baal to appear on Mount Carmel for a contest as to whose God is the Lord. When all have made their way to mount, Elijah instructs the priests to kill a bullock (but put no fire under it) and call out to their god. Since he is only one in the service of Jehovah, Elijah will then call to Him. Whoever answers the call with fire, He will be God.
Choruses & Recitatives - the People & Elijah “Baal, we cry to thee”
The contest commences. The priests of Baal, echoed by the women in the crowd, sing a hymn of supplication to their god that he will honor them with their sacrifice and let the flames fall upon their altar. Baal does not answer and Elijah provokes the priests by telling them to call him louder because he is a god, perhaps he is talking, pursuing, has taken a journey, maybe he is sleeping and calling louder will wake him. With increasing frenzy the priests call Baal to awake, and ask why he is sleeping. Scornfully, Elijah again tells them to call louder because Baal clearly can’t hear them. The prophet also reminds them to use their usual techniques of invocation by cutting themselves, leaping on the altar and prophesying–but he assures them that no matter what they do, they will get no answer. With increasing ferocity the priests and people cry to Baal to hear and answer them, anguished in the way that they are scorned. The cry is echoed and re-echoed, and they even pause to listen, but to no avail.
Recitative & Air - Elijah “Draw near, all ye people”
It is now Elijah’s turn, and he graciously invites the people to come near as he prays to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. He invokes the Lord to not only vindicate the prophet’s role as His messenger, but most of all to vindicate Himself and to turn the people’s hearts again to the worship of the true God.
Chorus - Angels “Cast thy burden upon the Lord”
In a short chorale-like meditation, the angels remind all that we can cast our burden on the Lord, he is always with us, is merciful, powerful and will sustain us.
Recitative & Chorus - Elijah & the People “O Thou, who makest Thine angels spirits”
Elijah now calls upon the Lord to bring down fire from heaven. With great excitement the people exclaim that fire has indeed come down and has consumed Elijah’s offering. They call on all to fall on their faces before God. In a hushed chorale they then affirm that “The Lord is God: O Israel, hear!” and with increasing intensity vow that they “will have no other Gods before the Lord.” Elijah then commands that the prophets of Baal be captured and slaughtered, and the people concur that this be done.
Air - Elijah “Is not His word like a fire?”
In a fiery hymn of triumph, Elijah declares God’s word like a fire and a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces. God is angry with the wicked, so that the Lord will turn His weapons against wickedness.
Arioso - Mezzo-soprano “Woe to them that forsake Him”
In a quiet reflection on the preceding drama, the soloist pronounces woe on those, even while having been redeemed, who continue to forsake the Lord.
Recitatives - Obadiah, Elijah, the People, & the Youth “O man of God”
The Lord has affirmed His authority through the fire, but the drought is still in force. Obadiah and the People implore Elijah to invoke God to send relief in the form of rain. Elijah prays, reminding the Lord that He has overthrown His enemies and destroyed them, then pleads that He will give relief to His people and open the heavens. The prophet sends the Youth up to the window to look toward the sea to see if there is any sign of rain. There is no sign, “the heavens are as brass.” The people promise to repent of their sins. As Elijah continues to pray for rain, the dialog with the Youth increases in intensity until finally he announces “a little cloud” arising from the sea like a man’s hand, and quickly the storm gathers until “the heavens are black with clouds and with wind.” The People and Elijah declare their thanks to God.
Chorus - the People “Thanks be to God!”
In the magnificent finale to Part I, the People, with extraordinary picturesque support from the orchestra, celebrate the rain and the end of the drought and above all, present a paean of praise and thanksgiving to the Almighty.
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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Elijah: an Oratorio
Air - Soprano “Hear ye, Israel”
The soloist implores the People to listen to the Lord and observe His commandments. She reminds all listeners that God is a God of comfort, of strength, the creator of life, and above all, instructs, “Be not afraid.”
Chorus - “Be not afraid”
In the words of Isaiah and Psalm 91, the chorus continues the theme of the soprano air with additional words of comfort: “Be not afraid, though thousands languish and fall beside thee, and tens of thousands around thee perish, yet still it shall not come nigh thee.”
Recitatives - Elijah, Queen Jezebel & the People “The Lord hath exalted thee”
The prophet denounces Ahab regarding the wicked ways in which he has led Israel in disobedience. His queen, Jezebel, livid that Elijah has caused her priests to be killed, stirs up the people against him and all now agree that Elijah must be put to death.
Chorus - the People “Woe to him!”
The people, now thoroughly stirred up, cast all the blame for their troubles on the prophet. In a frenzy, they vow revenge to seize and kill him.
Recitatives - Obadiah & Elijah “Man of God”
Obadiah comes to Elijah to warn him of Jezebel’s plot. He urges him to escape into the wilderness to save his life, but promises that the Lord will accompany him and will not fail or forsake him. Obadiah also asks for a blessing for himself. The full impact of Israel’s continuing impenitence is beginning to dawn on the distressed Elijah. He blesses Obadiah and in resignation declares that he will journey to the wilderness.
Air - Elijah “It is enough”
Accompanied by the voice of a solo cello and halting strings, a broken and dejected Elijah states that he has had enough and implores the Lord to let him die, for his days have been but vanity. He reminds God that he has worked hard in His cause, but the people have broken their covenant, thrown down God’s altars and have killed His prophets, so that only he, Elijah is left. They won’t be satisfied until they kill him also.
Recitative - Tenor “See, now he sleepeth”
The exhausted prophet is seen asleep under a juniper tree in the wilderness where the angels are protecting him.
Trio & Chorus - Angels “Lift thine eyes”
The angel trio declares the message of Psalm 121 to look to the mountains for help that comes from the Lord, Maker of the heavens and earth. “Thy Keeper will never slumber.” The trio is immediately joined by the chorus in one of the most serene declarations of comfort in the annuals of music. “He watching over Israel slumbers not, nor sleeps.”
Recitatives - an Angel (mezzo-soprano) & Elijah “Arise, Elijah”
An angel awakes Elijah instructing him to make his way to Mount Horeb to meet the Lord. Still bowed down with discouragement, the prophet believes that he has labored in vain. He asks that God would come down from the heavens to make His name known, but he still wishes that he could die.
Air - an Angel (mezzo-soprano) “O rest in the Lord”
Instead of death, an angel is sent to offer comfort and encouragement. “O rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him, then He shall give thee thy heart’s desires. Commit thy way unto Him, and trust in Him, and fret not thyself because of evil doers.”
Chorus “He that shall endure”
This quiet chorus simply declares the reward of the faithful: “He that shall endure to the end, shall be saved.”
Recitatives - Elijah & an Angel (soprano) “Night falleth round me”
Now, instead of asking for death, Elijah longs for God to be near him as night falls. He craves His presence as a thirsty land. The music recalls the earlier depiction of the drought. An angel appears calling him to veil his face and appear before the Lord on the mount of God.
Chorus “Behold! God the Lord passed by”
Unsurpassed in the oratorio for its descriptive qualities the chorus and orchestra conjure up the wind as it tears up the mountains and breaks the rocks, but the Lord is not to be found in the tempest. The sea is in upheaval, the earth shakes, but the Lord is not to be found in the earthquake. Then the fire comes, but the Lord was not there. The fury of the chorus and orchestra subsides, and it is only then that the Lord’s voice is heard, a still small voice.
Recitative (mezzo-soprano), Semi-chorus & Chorus “Holy is God the Lord”
In a vision of the majesty of heaven, all the heavenly host sing to the glory of the Lord: “Holy, holy, holy is God the Lord–the Lord Sabaoth! Now His glory hath filled all the earth.”
Recitative - Chorus & Elijah “Go, return upon thy way”
Elijah is bidden to go on his way but he is, in fact, not alone in serving the true God. There are still seven thousand that have remained loyal. Strengthened and transformed he goes on rejoicing in the Lord with hope and thanksgiving.
Arioso - Elijah “For the mountains shall depart”
As the prophet prepares for his next journey, he gives his farewell: even if the mountains depart and hills are removed, the Lord’s kindness will not depart, nor will the covenant of peace be removed.
Chorus “Then did Elijah”
This scene presents the magnificent finale of the drama. Elijah is honored for his powerful words, standing up to mighty kings and standing on mountaintops hearing future judgments. When the Lord takes him away to heaven he brings a fiery chariot with fiery horses and with all the vivid musical color Mendelssohn can muster, the prophet is transported to heaven in a whirlwind.
Air - Tenor “Then shall the righteous shine forth”
Following the ascent of Elijah into heaven, the final tableau of the oratorio completes the journey from the darkness of disobedience to the light of salvation brought through the coming of the Savior. The soloist describes the shining of the righteous as they enter the heavenly Father’s realm with everlasting joy and the final banishment of sorrow and mourning.
Recitative - Soprano “Behold, God hath sent Elijah”
The soloist recites the purpose of the prophetic gift in guiding humankind in repentance and reconciliation.
Chorus & Quartet “But the Lord from the north”
Beginning quietly, the penultimate chorus anticipates the coming of the Messiah, “my servant and mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth. On Him the Spirit of God shall rest.” Outstanding characteristics, “the spirit of wisdom, and understanding, the spirit of might and of counsel, the spirit of knowledge” are particularly underscored through orchestral punctuations. The movement ends with a quiet modulation into the final invitational quartet for the soloists, “O come everyone that thirsteth, O come to the waters: O come unto Him. O hear, and your soul shall live for ever.”
Chorus “And then shall your light break forth”
The light of the morning bursts forth from the orchestra and chorus as suddenly as Elijah’s pronouncement of the curse of the drought had at the beginning of the work. The introduction of light, health and the reward of the glory of the Lord resolves into the magnificent fugal hymn “Lord our Creator, how excellent Thy Name is in all the nations! Thou fillest heaven with glory.” As the Coda and the final “Amen” commences, the basses bring back the “curse” motive, now transformed as a final blessing.
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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2013.
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