Composers Datebook®

Music for St. Cecilia's Day

Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695) — Hail Bright Cecilia! (Gabrieli Consort; Paul McCreesh) Archiv 445 882 George Frederic Handel (1685 – 1759) — Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (English Concert; Trevor Pinnock, cond.) Archiv 419 220 Benjamin Britten (1913 –1976) — Hymn to St. Cecilia (London Sinfonietta Voices) Virgin 90728


Composer's Datebook - November 22, 2021

2:00


November 22, 2021

Synopsis

Today is the Feast Day of St. Cecilia, an early Christian martyr. Her story dates back to Roman times, when the new religion was still punishable by death.

It wasn’t until the 15th century, however, that St. Cecilia became the patron saint of music and musicians. Over time her Feast Day came to be celebrated with special works composed in her honor, all extolling the power of music. Of these, pieces by three British composers are the most famous.

In the 17th century, Henry Purcell wrote four cantatas, or “Odes” for St. Cecilia’s Day. The most famous of these, entitled “Hail! Bright Cecilia!” was written in 1692.

The British poet John Dryden, a contemporary of Purcell’s, wrote two poems in praise of St. Cecilia. These attracted the attention of the great British composer of the following century, George Frederick Handel. The first of these, “Alexander’s Feast” premiered in 1736, oddly enough not on St. Cecilia’s Day, but proved so popular that Handel set Dryden’s other Ode to St. Cecilia, entitled “From Harmony, Heavenly Harmony,” and performed both pieces on today’s date in 1739.

The great 20th century British composer, Benjamin Britten was actually born on St. Cecilia’s Day in 1913. In the early 1940s, the British poet W.H. Auden wrote a piece entitled "Anthem for St. Cecilia's Day" especially for Britten, who set it to music in 1942.

Music Played in Today's Program

Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695) — Hail Bright Cecilia! (Gabrieli Consort; Paul McCreesh) Archiv 445 882

George Frederic Handel (1685 – 1759) — Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (English Concert; Trevor Pinnock, cond.) Archiv 419 220

Benjamin Britten (1913 –1976) — Hymn to St. Cecilia (London Sinfonietta Voices) Virgin 90728

On This Day

Births

  • 1709 - Baptism of Bohemian composer Frantisek Benda, in Staré Benátky; In 1763 Benda wrote his autobiography, an important source of information on music and musicians of the period;

  • 1710 - German composer Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (eldest son of J. S.), in Weimar;

  • 1780 - German composer Conradin Kreutzer, in Messkirch, Baden;

  • 1899 - American pianist and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, in Bloomington, Ind.;

  • 1901 - Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, in Sagunto;

  • 1913 - English composer Benjamin Britten, in Lowestoft, Suffolk;

  • 1925 - American composer, conductor, professional French horn player, and author Gunther Schuller, in New York;

  • 1936 - German composer and conductor Hans Zender, in Wiesbaden;

Deaths

  • 1900 - English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, in London, age 58;

  • 1955 - French composer Guy Ropartz, age 91, in Lanloup;

Premieres

  • 1712 - Handel: opera “Il pastor fido,” at the Queen’s Theater in London (Gregorian date: Dec. 3);

  • 1727 - Handel: opera “Riccardo Primo” in London (see Julian date: Nov. 11);

  • 1739 - Handel: “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day,” in London at Lincoln’s Inn Field (Gregorian date: Dec. 3);

  • 1740 - Handel: opera “Imeneo” in London at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (Gregorian date: Dec. 3) ; This work was billed as an “operetta”;

  • 1872 - Dvořák: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 5 (original version), at the Konvikt Hall in Prague; Dvořák revised this early chamber work in 1887;

  • 1895 - Rachmaninoff: “Caprice bohémien” (Capriccio on Gypsy Themes) (Gregorian date: Dec. 4);

  • 1907 - Charles Martin Loeffler: "A Pagan Poem," Karl Muck conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra;

  • 1928 - Ravel: ballet "Bolero," danced by Ida Rubinstein, at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1931 - Ferde Grofé: "Grand Canyon" Suite, in Chicago, by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra;