Saint Cecilia

Tomorrow (the 22nd) is St. Cecilia’s Day — Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians. A day to sing and play. And, for me, to appreciate the music of Handel and Purcell. Hail! Bright Cecilia!

The core of the story, from the Wikipedia page:

Cecilia’s musical fame rests on a passing notice in her legend that she was beheaded and at the same time praised God, singing to Him, as she lay dying a martyr’s death. She is frequently depicted playing an organ or other musical instrument. Musical societies and conservatories frequently have been named for St. Cecilia. Her feast day became an occasion for musical concerts and festivals that occasioned well-known poems by John Dryden and Alexander Pope, and music by Henry Purcell (Ode to St. Cecilia), George Frideric Handel (Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, Alexander’s Feast) and Benjamin Britten (Hymn to St. Cecilia), as well as Herbert Howells with text from a poem by W. H. Auden. Gerald Finzi’s “For Saint Cecilia”, Op. 30, was set to verses written by Edmund Blunden.

Cecilia has often been represented in art, not infrequently in the company of an angel. Here’s Carlo Saraceni’s version (ca. 1610), with the saint strumming:

And Jacques Blanchard’s (1st half of the 17th century), with the saint at the keyboard:

Back in the old days in Columbus, we followed a custom established by Jim McCawley in Chicago and celebrated St. Cecilia’s Day with a gathering of friends to play music, sing, and enjoy. A lovely event, with the edge taken off only by the date being so close to U.S. Thanksgiving: two celebrations in one week.

3 Responses to “Saint Cecilia”

  1. Chris Hansen Says:

    The old RC hymnal, “St. Gregory’s Hymnal”, has a hymn in praise of St. Cecilia, no. 105, which begins, “Let the deep organ swell the lay/In honour of this festive day.”

    I must say that my adolescent mind found this about as smutty as it could be.

  2. bfwebster Says:

    Normal Dello Joio also set Dryden’s poem to choral music — my high school choir learned and performed it my junior year (1969-70). The choral composition lasted 16 minutes and was the single most difficult choral piece I’ve ever had to learn. I prefer it with just piano accompaniment (which is how we performed it), but here’s a version with orchestral accompaniment (which tends to drown out the choir at times):

  3. Anniversaries and holidays | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] conjoined to the JFK assassination on the 22nd is St. Cecilia’s Day – Cecilia the patron saint of […]

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