The pastoral evocation that formed a significant portion of Scene I is further accentuated at the beginning of Scene II with the song of the Shepherd Boy (4). The simplicity of the musical ideas, the pentatonic clarinet melody, the limpid timbre of the treble voice and the uncomplicated strophic form all contribute to a vision of tender innocence; yet clouding this representation of gentle naïveté are the darker harmonies that intrude in the strings, serving to remind us of the coming storm. Here we have a demonstration of Parry’s harmonic resourcefulness as he colours his luminous G major with the minor subdominant. Moreover, this minor subdominant recurs unexpectedly, first as an unusual cadential interruption and then as means of modulating to B flat major, the flat mediant – all this before surfacing effortlessly into G major once again for the Shepherd Boy’s first verse. The tonal events of the instrumental prelude find their way into the two verses of the song: a modulation to B flat signals the end of the verse and the beginning of the refrain (‘The wind bites not’), while the interrupted cadence to the minor subdominant (‘The gentle sheep may stray’) ominously only provides a half close. The second verse behaves in the same way with but a small modification at the end in the form of a coda (‘They need no guard, God is their ward’). The pentatonic ruminations of the clarinet are expunged as Satan enters malignantly (5). As he summons the Sabean horde to destroy Job’s flocks, the tonality moves to B minor, a key which frames the whole of the chorus’s narrative description of the dreadful carnage. The episode ends with a poignant lament (‘The song of the shepherd has ceased in the land’) in which the oboe sings out a mournful transformation of the orchestral ‘symphony’ in Scene I. This is inspired music, not only in the inventive choral harmony, but also in the expressive interjections from the doleful unison cellos and low violins (how Elgar must have loved this passage!). The Shepherd Boy as messenger (accompanied by a melancholy incipit of his innocent song) recounts to Job that he is the only survivor from the holocaust meted out by the Sabeans (6). It is a terrible blow (intimated by the cello motif that answers the messenger’s woeful tale), but Job, holy man as he is, meets his loss and anguish with immovable trust in God. Parry marked this dramatic moment with a passage of restrained solemnity in G minor. Job, accompanied by muted strings (in a manner not unlike the hallowed declamatory passages of Jesus in the St Matthew Passion), accepts his lot with dignity; the musical material has a certain Brahmsian flavour, but the yearning lyricism surely betrays a more English temperament. Satan, as the author of a calamitous storm, brings yet further misery to Job in what is his main set piece (‘Arise, O wind of the sea!’). The structure of this section is in fact ‘aria and chorus’, for after Satan’s invocation (in F major) comes a further choral narrative. After a brief transition (‘See the clouds that sweep o’er the heavens’), the key of C minor is established, marking the descent of darkness (‘All the bright lights of heaven are made dark’). The whole of this part effectively constitutes a development of the leitmotiv of Job’s spirit (first heard in the cellos and basses) as further suffering is inflicted on his stricken soul. The tonal dissolution of this paragraph is resolved by a bracing choral statement (‘Lift up thy voice, O son of man, and cry!’ (7)), re-asserting C major, but the message is one of desolation and waste. Job, confused and broken, is left alone to grieve.
The opening twenty-six bars of Scene III (8) take us back to the declamatory style of Scene I. Job’s cello leitmotiv is once again in evidence but now all sense of well-being has been expunged from it as it now emerges as an agent of tragedy and despair. Job finally curses his day. Staunch acceptance of God’s ways is replaced by the need for answers, a change of heart at once felt in the faltering strains of Job’s ‘faith’ motif immediately before the ‘Lamentation’.
‘The Lamentation of Job’ has rarely been matched in terms of length or emotional tension in the history of oratorio. Elgar also produced extended solo paragraphs – one thinks of Judas’ soliloquy in The Apostles (1903) and ‘The sun goeth down’ sung by Mary in The Kingdom (1906) – but Parry’s scena, running to some fourteen pages of vocal score, must rank as one of the most sustained and physically exacting essays ever attempted in British choral music. For Parry, who had largely failed to come to terms with the theatrical (and hence external) demands of opera, it was an opportunity for him to bring his assimilation of Wagnerian declamation and leitmotivic transformation to bear on an internalized dramatic situation of truly symphonic scope. (In this sense the manner and technique of the ‘Lamentation’ has much in common with Wotan’s agonized soul-searching in Die Walküre and the ‘Wahnmonolog’ of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger.) The scena, based in A minor, is constructed in six distinct parts, beginning with Job’s bitterness of spirit and desire for death (9), a mood communicated by the stark and austere material in rigid, parallel thirds (a metamorphosis of Job’s cello theme). Job’s questioning is passionate: ‘Why died I not from the womb?’ (10), he asks imploringly. In death at least he should have ‘lain still and been quiet’. In the second section Job reflects, with some exasperation, on the notion of justice and the omnipotent Deity (‘How should a man be just with God?’ (11)), aware of his own insignificance. Yet, in his weariness, he has the courage to demand answers from his Creator (12). These fundamental questions – ‘show me wherefore thou contendest with me. Is it good unto Thee that Thou shouldest oppress?’ – constitute the third section in a more lyrical A flat major which in turn leads to D flat and Job’s powerful meditation on the transitoriness of life (section four). The words ‘Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble’ (13) are familiar from the Order for the Burial of the Dead and from Purcell’s immutable setting used at the funeral of Queen Mary. Parry’s setting retains the same level of pathos as that of Purcell but in an entirely romantic context. Supported by the velvet tones of three trombones, the cellos sing a melody charged with melancholy. This lyrical gesture recurs with increased ardour throughout Job’s arioso and also closes off the section in the manner of a baroque set piece. In what is actually a short episode, Parry manages to achieve not only great pathos, but also an extraordinary intensity which leaves behind the impression that this part constitutes the very heart of the work. From here Job attempts to stage some kind of emotional recovery as he remembers the God of past experience (‘O that I were as in the months past, as in the days when God preserved me’ – section five (14)). As the tonality gravitates towards C major – a tonal memory of his once happy life – Job sings more buoyantly in a neo-Handelian vein (‘I put on righteousness, and it clothed me’). The memory, however, is short-lived, for he quickly realizes that his predicament is one of hopelessness (‘But now my soul is poured out upon me’ (15)). The sixth section restores both the key of A minor and the opening austerity as Job bitterly accepts his lot. Stoically he looks forward to the time of his death (at which point Parry masterfully reintroduces the cello melody of section four) without knowing the cause of God’s displeasure (16).
Scene IV, representing God in the whirlwind, creates an appropriately massive symmetry to Scene III and is for the most part a scena in choral form. It serves also to reaffirm the home key of the oratorio, C major. Like the ‘Lamentation’, the chorus is composed of six large architectural structures, though crucially, at the end, Parry provides a more extensive coda for the Narrator and Job. The opening choral statement, ‘Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?’ (17), is highly striking, both for its unusual harmonic progression of root-position chords and its dramatic gradation of dynamics from pianissimo to forte. God’s demand (‘Gird up thy loins like a man, and answer’) is marked by the imposing timbre of the horns who present a bold ritornello idea to punctuate the entire section. After the exultant conclusion of the first part, an orchestral transition takes us to the flat mediant (E flat) for a spacious choral paragraph imbued with sea imagery (‘Who shut up the sea with doors?’ (18)). Especially impressive here is Parry’s use of the trombone which becomes even more conspicuous in the animated bridge to section three. ‘Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days?’ (19) is by contrast a lyrical effusion that, in its breadth and rapture, looks forward linguistically to the choral works of Elgar. The imagery of section two is continued in the fourth section (‘Who hath divided a watercourse’) but this time with a much wider pictorial range. In depicting the rain, dew and hoary frost, Parry exhibits considerable sensitivity in his choice of orchestration, but most remarkable of all are the unearthly timbres of low tuba, trombones, horns, cellos and basses that portray the frozen deep. The fifth section, ‘Hast thou given the horse strength?’ (20), is a brisk scherzo in F major which culminates with a repeat of the horn ritornello first heard in section one (now with full brass). This gesture anticipates God’s initial demand (‘Gird up thy loins like a man, and answer’) which now acts as a link to section six. With the mention of judgment and majesty (‘Wilt thou disannul judgment?’ (21)), Parry creates an atmosphere of epic grandeur by means of a neo-Bachian style replete with walking-bass and French ‘double-dotted’ figurations. Architecturally this becomes even more immense as the end of the chorus builds to a broad climax by way of a series of weighty imitative entries (‘Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath’); but perhaps most affecting is the last choral utterance (‘Then shall God also confess’ (22)) which, in its manipulation of a higher diatonic dissonance, looks forward to the sumptuous vocal textures of the late Songs of Farewell.
The conclusion of Job brings together all the most important thematic elements and in so doing operates as both a dramatic and symphonic resolution to the oratorio. Job’s reappearance is signalled by the return of his cello leitmotiv, while his deeply moving act of repentance (‘I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear’) is marked by a recapitulation (in D flat) of the ‘Lamentation’ theme elided subtly with the final phrase of the ‘meditation’ idea. The work closes, as it began, with the Narrator whose brief but profoundly uplifting music tells of Job’s end (23). It is then left to the orchestra to restate in a glorious blaze of C major the opening ‘symphony’ as an apotheosis of Job, the holy man and hero, restored to God’s favour.
from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 1998