An opera (or dramatic cantata) in one act for a chorus of young voices, light soprano, light tenor and baritone solo and orchestra (1111/11110/timp.3perc/pno/hp/str).

  1. The state of Heorot
  2. The Lamentation of Hrothgar and Wealtheow
  3. The Arrival of Beowulf
  4. Festive Celebrations
  5. Hrothgar’s Plea and the Story of Beowulf’s past
  6. Grendel’s Journey and Beowulf’s Lullaby
  7. The Fight
  8. The Victory

Libretto is by Roger Harcourt, and is based on part of the Early English poem which graphically depicts the exploits of a dragon-slayer.

Beowulf is one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon or Old English poems that have come down to us and is perhaps one of the finest products of the so-called Dark Ages.

Its theme is the conflict of good and evil. It is an expression of the fear of the dark, an examination of the nature and purpose of heroism and the great statement of the Anglo-Saxon outlook and imagination.

It was written at some time in the 8th century AD, the product of a sophisticated Christian and aristocratic civilisation.

For this work, which at first was designed to be a secular cantata, Roger Harcourt has concentrated on the demise of the monster Grendel.

The hero, a Geat, hears that Grendel, a man-eating monster, has been terrorising Heorot, ruled by the King of the Danes, Hrothgar. Sailing to Denmark, Beowulf is given splendid hospitality before somewhat immodestly singing his own praises!

Grendel duly appears when the Danes are sleeping, but Beowulf is more than equal to the task of dispatching Grendel, who, after a terrible fight, is mortally wounded.

The Anglo-Saxon saga then relates a further attack by Grendel’s mother, and once again, Beowulf’s success, with all the ensuing celebrations, but Roger Harcourt omits this, concentrating solely on the demise of Grendel.

There is plenty of action, however, and it was soon realised that the libretto demanded dramatisation despite the large forces required for the chorus.

The chorus plays a prominent role, narrating and commenting on the action. Through-composed, the music is diatonic and modal in style, and maintains a lively pace, being highly rhythmic, with memorable melodies. The composer’s earlier Abigail’s Jig is redeployed at one point, in a new arrangement, at the height of the initial welcome celebrations.

Some of the opera’s earlier melodies are reprised for the final festivities, providing a rousing conclusion.

The music for Beowulf was commenced in 1977 but not completed during that period. Composition was resumed in 1992 and completed in May 1993.

It was given three performances in the first production on 8 and 9 May that year in Royston Parish Church. It is scored for three solo singers: baritone (Hrothgar), soprano (Wealtheow) and tenor (Beowulf), a large children’s choir, and chamber orchestra.