“New Oratorio Highlights Mormon Festival of Arts,” Ensign, Mar. 1978, 70–71
A testimony of Jesus Christ in the form of new sacred music has been composed by Tabernacle Organist Robert Cundick.
The work, The Redeemer, followed President Spencer W. Kimball’s challenge to the Church to compose music dealing with the Latter-day Saint message of Jesus Christ (Ensign, July 1977, p. 3) and Elder Boyd K. Packer’s plea for “music that would inspire people to worship.” (Ensign, Aug. 1976, p. 63.)
In September of 1977, Dr. Ralph Woodward, director of BYU A Cappella and Oratorio choirs, gave Dr. Cundick a text of scriptures that he had selected for an oratorio based on the Savior. The scriptural scope of the text is broad: all four Latter-day Saint standard works are quoted, with a major emphasis on the Book of Mormon.
The text is divided into three sections: “The Prophecy” deals with Nephite and Lamanite predictions of the coming of Christ; “The Sacrifice” includes scriptural references to the Savior’s mission, crucifixion, and resurrection; “The Promise” points to the Second Coming.
The scriptural passages used in the text were chosen to acknowledge the Latter-day Saint concept of Jesus Christ.
“Because of my experiences before joining the Church many years ago and because of several experiences since then, I know that many people think that Mormons don’t believe in Christ,” Dr. Woodward explains. “I hope that through this work, others will be able to see the Latter-day Saint vision of the Savior.”
Although much of the text is Latter-day Saint scripture, no references make the work exclusively Mormon; the scriptural account of Jesus Christ can be appreciated by people of other faiths.
After receiving the text in September, Dr. Cundick finished the composition of the work early in December of the same year. “The work flowed freely,” he says. “I never felt any real stumbling blocks while writing it.”
Brother Cundick’s oratorio is unique. It involves more than a large choir, a symphony orchestra, and a group of distinguished soloists. In fact, Brother Cundick prefers to term his work “a sacred service of music” instead of an “oratorio” because it was written as a worship service, not as a concert. The spotlight is on the text and the music, not on the soloists.
“Because of the sacred subject matter, it became increasingly apparent that a standard concert performance would be out of keeping,” Brother Cundick explains. “I needed to come up with some form that would allow people to worship. For that reason the opening and closing prayers are part of the work. There is an instrumental prelude, followed by the invocation, given by invitation. The work is an outgrowth of the opening prayer. The postlude at the end is a culmination of the benediction.”
Dr. Woodward feels that Brother Cundick’s oratorio is artistically excellent and that it is “an extremely moving and powerful piece.” And Dr. A. Harold Goodman, chairman of the Music Department at BYU, also believes that the work is “a credit to the Church in an artistic sense as well as a spiritual sense.”
Expressing his feelings about his part in the production of the “sacred service of music,” Brother Cundick says: “I’m just a small part of an enormous happening—just one member of a large team. The text, the choir, the orchestra, the conductors—their major participation will make The Redeemer memorable.”
Brother Woodward will conduct the BYU Oratorio Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra in the premiere performances of the work March 24 and 25 at Brigham Young University. The Redeemer will be presented at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on April 5. The BYU Alumni Association is sponsoring that presentation.
Complementing the choral and orchestral performances, a sculpture and a group of paintings inspired by the text of the oratorio and created by BYU faculty members will be on display in the Harris Fine Arts Center.
The Redeemer is a highlight of the 10th annual Mormon Festival of Arts, which will be held on the BYU campus from March 17 to April 7. The festival is an annual celebration of Mormon artistic talent and achievement. Art, music, drama, dance, and literature from throughout the Church will be displayed on campus to large audiences. Many Saints attending April general conference will travel from Salt Lake City to Provo to attend the festival.
“A lot of things are happening in Mormon art which are very exciting,” says Lael J. Woodbury, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications. “We teach and nourish one another when we get together to share, observe, and celebrate our concepts of art. We believe that the realization of President Kimball’s yearning for a new generation of great young Mormon artists will be helped through the festival.”