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.