The genesis of this monumental composition, which was to become a milestone in its author’s career, lies in a poem written by John Henry Newman, an extraordinary figure in the spiritual life of 19th-century Britain. He was an Anglican clergyman who, influenced by his readings, reflections and travels to Italy, converted to Catholicism and became a cardinal of the Church, an ardent apostle and later a saint. Newman described the moment of death of an old man bearing the symbolic name of Gerontius, surrounded by fellow worshippers in prayer, and later the subsequent journey of his soul towards God. Edward Elgar was fascinated by Newman’s work, and thus enthusiastically embraced the challenge of setting it to music with the great Birmingham Triennial Music Festival of 1900 in mind – one of the most important musical events, the tradition of which went back to the 18th century. The long-awaited premiere was not a success, and even Hans Richter, one of the most prominent conductors of his time, was unable to help – the enormous difficulty of the piece exceeded the capabilities of amateur choirs; however, subsequent performances brought the work success and recognition, including in Germany, and later also in the USA and other countries. Interestingly, in many churches in England, performances planned by church choirs were initially hindered by the work’s strongly Catholic message and its commentary on the idea of purgatory, an idea alien to the Reformed faiths; however, with time these objections lost their significance. The rich musical fabric of the two-movement work (the author himself suggested that it should not be called an oratorio) exploits the whole expressive potential of the eschatological text and its harrowing visions of death, the journey of the soul and the judgement. A special function is performed by the choir, which takes on the roles of the protagonist’s friends and companions on his final journey, demons and angels, and souls in purgatory. The Dream of Gerontius remained immensely popular until the First World War, after which – like many of Elgar’s compositions – it almost sank into oblivion, although not in his homeland, where it was one of his most frequently revived works and a favourite of ambitious choirs.