Sunday, November 22, 2015

Music's Patroness

It is the feast-day of St. Cecilia; she is the patron saint of music and musicians.  In these days of mass-produced and mass-broadcast music, the age of the microphone, the loudspeaker and the re-wind button, it is very easy to take music for granted.  Yet it is important to give thanks for music, as our ancestors did who had to make their own if they wanted to hear any.  Curmudgeons like me also pray that St. Cecilia can do something to improve the standard of most modern pop music and give us some fare that is easier on the ear!
Orazio Gentileschi — St. Cecilia with an angel.
Here is a hymn to St. Cecilia by Herbert Howells, setting words by Ursula Vaughan Williams (incidentally Ralph Vaughan Williams' wife).  The words are rather good — I like the phrase 'Sing ... in words of music', which captures exactly the character of an utterance that good music has.  The same phrase could also be taken as a definition of poetry: that makes me like it even better because, I think, the two worlds are very close in purpose.  It is fascinating that, even though the practice is quite different (there are no Conservatoires for poets!), composers and poets alike have the same calling to hammer out their works, however great the struggle. St. Cecilia is also a patron of poets  I am very glad of that!  Ursula Vaughan Williams and her husband (who twice read the complete works of Shakespeare to each other) probably thought it fitting as well.  

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