‘Elijah’ oratorio wins enthusiastic audience response

Mendelssohn’s work suits LDS theology on prophet

The prophet Elijah, so important in the Jewish faith and tradition, has substantial import in Latter-day Saint theology as well, it being he whose latter-day coming was foretold in the last two verses of the Old Testament. The verses were quoted with altered wording by the Angel Moroni in vision to the Prophet Joseph Smith on Sept. 21, 1823, foreshadowing the restoration of priesthood keys in the latter-day dispensation.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Felix Mendelssohn's renowned oratorio "Elijah" would find enthusiastic reception by a mostly LDS audience. That was the case Oct. 15-16, when the Temple Square Chorale and Orchestra at Temple Square combined to present the oratorio in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Friday and Libby Gardner Concert Hall at the University of Utah on Saturday evening.

Four featured soloists performed in key roles: Clayton Brainerd, bass, as Elijah; Jeanine Thames, soprano; Charlotte Paulsen, mezzo-soprano; and Robert MacNeil, tenor. Ryan Tani, boy soprano and chorister at the Madeline Choir School, Catholic Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, sang the role of Elijah's servant who is sent to look toward the sea for a sign of rain in fulfillment of the Lord's revelation to Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:43).

In printed program notes, Dr. Roger L. Miller of the University of Utah School of Music observed regarding the composer: "Mendelssohn's life was virtually contemporary with that of the Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844). That both men should have had such a vital and contemporaneous interest in the prophet Elijah is worth some reflection. Elijah is universally recognized as one of the greatest of Old Testament figures, yet his importance is unique among both Latter-day Saints and Jews, both groups sharing a profound view of a prophecy of Malachi."

Quoting Malachi 4:5-6, Dr. Miller wrote: "As a person versed in the Hebrew scriptures, Mendelssohn would have been well-acquainted with Malachi's text. So important is the expectation of Elijah's return in the Jewish tradition that an empty place is set for him at the annual celebration of the Passover meal. While respecting this tradition, Latter-day Saints hold that Malachi's prophecy was fulfilled when, on April 3, 1836, Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland (Ohio) Temple, in company with Moses and others, to restore the keys of the 'gathering of Israel' (see Doctrine and Covenants 110)."

Some 10 years later, on Aug. 26, 1846, Mendelssohn's "Elijah" premiered in Birmingham, England.

The music depicts dramatic episodes from the Old Testament account of the prophet's life, including his encounter with the idolatrous prophets of Baal, in which Elijah taunts them to call upon their idol to bring fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice, then accomplishes that feat by praying to the true God of Israel (see 1 Kings 18: 36-39).

The oratorio includes melodies that would be familiar to many people, including the tenor air, "If with all your heart ye truly seek Me, ye shall ever surely find Me" and the quartet, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee."

In addition to performing in its own right, the Temple Square Chorale is a support organization for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, consisting of members in training and established members of the choir who receive instruction and enrichment for a number of months.

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