Saturday, 22 November 2008

St Cecilia

Today cannot pass without mention of the Patron Saint of Music. Little is known of St Cecilia, but by all accounts she was a tough old bird (not unlike the Chapter secretary). Her martyrdom was a long drawn out affair, involving all manner of indignities. Her 'early bath' was followed by not one, not two, but three attempts at decapitation! Understandably affronted, Cecilia retired to her chamber and lived for a further three days - singing the Almighty's praise, if you please! - before the great conductor in the sky reached the final downbeat.

But enough of all that nonsense. It has long been a tradition in this sceptered isle of ours to celebrate the day with a setting of John Dryden's Ode to St Cecilia. You know, the one that begins...

From Harmony, from heav'nly harmony
This universal frame began...


You don't know it? Well, you should. And in my humble and uneducated opinion the likes of Professor Stephen Hawkwind, Dickhead Dawkins, not to mention Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Ludwig Log, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger and the entire host of particle cosmologists or whatever they choose to call themselves could have saved themselves a good deal of time sweating over impossible mathematical calculations if they'd merely read John Dryden's Ode first, as it effectively says everything there is to say about the origin of the universe, only with a great deal more poetry and none of the difficult sums.

However. My own favourite setting of this noble Ode comes from the pen of one Giovanni Battista Draghi. Oh, there are others, including many from great Englishman like John Blow, Henry Purcell, Frederick Handel (who said he was German?) and Benjamin Britten (ok, so he was a homosexual, but we must not hold that against him). So why, I hear you cry from the vastness of cyber-space, is your favourite setting from the pen of an Italian? Well it isn't, or at least he wasn't. Not really. He was certainly as much of an Englishman as Handel. Why, I feel certain he would have been born on these fragrant shores if only his parents hadn't been unspeakable dagos. But no matter. It is, quite simply, the finest setting of this admirable text known to man. Or woman. And not just because it has some spectacular bass solo's, either.

19 comments:

auntiegwen said...

Good Morning, I thought I would pop in and tell you that Cecilia is my confirmation name.

In my younger years I was much less heathenish and was in actual fact a Sunday School teacher as opposed to the regular kind I am now.

Hope the Help the Heathens campaign is progressing well

Kitty said...

I wonder if the Simon & Garfunkel song is really about the Saint of the same name? x

Working mum said...

We (The Manchester Chorale) sing a fantastic version by A J Woods. The mezzo part is interesting (for a change) and the overall sound he creates from the choir is superb. Builds to a great climax and typifies what music is all about. Try it.

Can Bass 1 said...

Well I never! I assumed I had mortally offended you AG by daring to suggest that - from a theological, as opposed to a celebratory pov - Christmas - that is, the season - actually began on Dec 25th. But you should have known that all along! And there's nothing wrong with a good heathen> (A number of them are far better Christians than, well... Christians). Oh what am I talking about?

Kitty, darling. I fear the answer may be 'no'. Sorry.

Never heard of him, WM. Are you sure he's not too modern. I prefer not to sing anything under fifty years old, if I can possibly avoid it. But thank you all the same. I shall make enquiries.

sparsely kate said...

How on earth did you find me all the way over in Canberra?!

Like your blog.

Brother Tobias said...

What little I know about St Cecilia comes from Chaucer. He reported (if Coghill got it right) that an angel promised her and Mr Cecilia martyrdom as a reward for good behaviour. It's always seemed to me a telling argument for behaving badly.

The Dotterel said...

Hang on, Can. Doesn't that piece go down to a bottom E? And you a baritone!

scarlet-blue said...

My bottom is Bb, Mr Dotts. A nice round tone if ever there was one.
Sx

inkspot said...

Why is physics contemptible? Seriously, I'd like to know.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Oh yes indeed, "a great deal more poetry and none of the difficult sums" is what we need, and how can that bunch ever expect us to take them seriously when one of their number is called Max Planck, eh? They'd do better as a music hall act.

By way of balance I'd like to addd that I know some really really boring heathens.

Mrs Pouncer said...

First of all, I'd like to address darling Inkly and say that Physics is NEVER contemptible as any fule kno, and as you and I know in particular.
Secondly, I would like to say that St Cecilia sounds most unfortunate, but kinda familiar. They tried to stun her in a hammam - well, that nearly happened to me at the Thallasotherapie resort in Pornic this summer, and if I hadn't have refused that third Shambuie, God knows what would've happened. Then she was off her head, not once, but three times. Well, tell me something I don't know. Then, her family gathered round and expressed regret - weekly bloody occurrence here, I can tell you. So what's the big deal about? It's the usual Christian kvetch, if you don't mind me saying.

having my cake said...

I was at the Erotica exhibition on Saturday having my horizons broadened... and, like Kitty, you say Cecilia, I think of S&G. I guess all the above just proves that, despite my best intentions, I really am a heathen...

inkspot said...

I'd forgotten your Pornic period, Mrs P.

I celebrated St Cecilia's Day by quaffing champagne, at someone else's expense. But trumpets and foie gras were absent.

Mrs Pouncer said...

Pornic was perfect, Inky. Detoxed, botoxed, and enema'd to within an inch of my life, I emerged 10 years younger and with a lattice of welts up my back from the twig-yielder in the steam bath. God, it was blissful. Going back in Feb. Wanna come with?

My word vert. Copsym.

Barry Teeth, Beet Poet said...

One of my ambitions is to sneak into Stephen Hawking's home and change his voice the way pretentious tossers programme their satellite navigations. I think Homer Simpson or Murray Walker would be fun. Or even Adolf Hitler.

Mrs Pouncer said...

Good one, Bazby baby. But that's only one of your ambitions. What's the other? Others? Anything to do with St Cecilia?

Rob Clack said...

Ah, thought it might come down to a bass solo before the end!

Rob Clack said...

So I read the Ode and though I thought it very nice, it doesn't really explain anything, does it? Or are you just trying to wind me up?

Mrs Pouncer said...

Dear Mr Clack, is that your real name? Please let me know with all available haste. Cordially, CLdeMP