Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy St. Cecilia's Day + Happy Birthday Benjamin Britten

November 22 is the feast day of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the birthday of Benjamin Britten (Thanks @mlaffs!), and W.H. Auden dedicated his poem "Anthem for St. Cecilia's Day" to Britten, who then set it for a capella choir as his Hymn to St. Cecilia. The video below (performed by the Cambridge Singers, conducted by John Rutter) shows the text throughout the work, which helps in engaging with the poetry. What starts out as a kind-hearted ode to the musician's muse ends up becoming a meditation on the horrific events unfolding in Europe at the time - Auden wrote the poem in 1940. What makes the composition of this work even more astonishing was that on his departure from the United States in 1942, the score was confiscated by customs officers. Britten then re-wrote the work in its entirety while on the boat back to England.
Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

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