Sing for the morning’s joy Cecilia…

Our O Sing Aloud! programme covers a broad musical spectrum – and not all of it is about St Cecilia who, unsurprisingly, has inspired many composers to put pen to (paper) score.

Here’s a few examples to whet the appetite for November 23.

Purcell’s Ode to St Cecilia was commissioned in 1692 by the “Gentlemen Lovers of Musick” and, set a poem by the Rev Nicholas Brady, features 13 movements praising the saint, music, and instruments. It’s a bit of a benchmark piece as it heralds the start of the English secular choral tradition. At the time of composition, St Cecilia Day celebrations were civic entertainments staged for the entire population. For musicians it was a commercial venture and the Odes were performed in public concert halls. Our concert features three excerpts from work.

The stars clearly combined when Benjamin Britten came along.s He was born on St Cecilia’s Day (November 22) and so his Hymn to St Cecilia must have been somewhat inevitable. Although it wasn’t an easy process: Britten initially had problems in finding a suitable text which led to a request to poet WH Auden who produced the words in 1940. Much of the music was composed while Britten was in America but when he returned to England in 1942 US customs officials confiscated the first part, believing it was some kind of coded message. Britten had to rewrite the entire first section from memory.

Haydn was only young when he wrote Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae – otherwise known as the St Cecilia Mass.  And he also had to write it from memory after the original manuscript was lost in a fire in1768. Seldom performed, it’s a heady mix of intricate fugues and elegant melodic lines.

Herbert Howells wrote his Hymn to St Cecilia using words from poet Ursula Vaughan Williams (aka Mrs Ralph Vaughan Williams) and, harking back to 17th century tradition, was commissioned by the Livery Club of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Set for four-part choir and organ, it premiered on November 22,1961, in St Paul’s Cathedral.

If anyone was going to get a -er- Handel on all of this it was George Friedrich with his 1739 cantata Ode for St Cecilia’s Day.  He, again went to a poet for the text, this time England’s first Poet Lauret John Dryden, with its theme of music being a central force in Earth’s creation.

Tickets for O Sing Aloud! in St Martin’s Church, Worcester, on Saturday, November 23, are available here.

Serenade makes for a sublime musical heaven

In composing a homage to Sir Henry Wood, Vaughan Williams brought in words from greatest Bard of all time – and the result was sublime musical heaven. 

So what could be a fitting celebration to St Cecilia than Serenade to Music, which is the other highlight of our concert?

Written in 1938 to mark Sir Henry’s 50-year Proms conducting milestone, it features the words from Act V of The Merchant of Venice, in which Jessica and Lorenzo are listening to music.

Opening with ‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank’, Shakespeare pens a gloriously poetic discussion about music that stands alone before you add Vaughan Williams’s exquisite score.

The composer set it specifically for 16 leading singers of the time – their initials appear alongside his or her lines – but eventually arranged versions for chorus, soloists and orchestra and for solo violin and orchestra. 

In the original, some parts see the soloists singing as a “choir,” often in as many as 12 parts; in others, they have a solo, some more than others.

Once premiered, it immediately became a Proms staple. Sir Henry himself, wrote thanking Vaughan Williams after that first performance, saying he thought it had “lent real distinction” to it and the work was performed in the following Proms four years straight.

And Sergei Rachmaninov, who was playing his own Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor in that same inaugural concert, was said to have been moved to tears when he heard ‘Serenade’.

The season has since given it almost nearly 30 airings while Vaughan Williams conducted the original version in the 1951 inaugural concerts of the Royal Festival Hall.

“A fitting ending to 14 minutes of sublime poetry coupled with some of the composer’s most transcendent music: a divine pairing that ascends to heavenly heights and returns to earth with the harmonious strains of the angelic harp hovering in the air,” writes one author.

And what could be a better tribute to the patron saint of music herself? Come and hear it performed in St Martin’s Church, Worcester on Saturday, November 23.  Tickets here.

Seeking tenors and basses ….

Rick Wakeman wanted to perform with the county’s leading chamber choir, so did hit harmony group Blake – do you?

Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir has vacancies for tenors and basses so please get in touch if you would like to join us.

Auditions are required but – there’s no Simon Cowells here – we’re a very friendly bunch!

We’re a choir of about 30 singers, all working to a high standard of musical excellence and, under our founder and musical director Stephen Shellard, have gained a reputation for musical sensitivity and ground-breaking performance.

Much of its repertoire is drawn from the traditional Anglican Church Music heritage and while recording catalogue includes music by Elgar, Parry, Vaughan Williams and contemporary Australian composer Paul Paviour.

Its latest CD, Royal Worcester, features music for royal occasions.

Apart from regular concerts, as member you will be expected to sing at Cathedral Eucharist and Evensong services several times a year, sometimes two or three times over one weekend, plus some other services.

We rehearse on Thursday evenings during term times and require an attendance level of at least 70% for any one project.

Any interested tenors or basses wishing to join us, please go to the contact section of our website www.worcestercathedralchamberchoir.co.uk, from where you can email our membership secretary. Or find us on Facebook and Twitter.