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A SONG FOR ST CECILIA’S DAY.
Sr Cecilia was, according to her legend, a Roman virgin of rank, who flourished during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. She was a Christian, and, by her purity of life, and constant employment in the praises of her Maker, while yet on earth, obtained intercourse with an angel. Being married to Valerianus, a Pagan, she not only prevailed upon him to abstain from using any familiarity with her person, but converted him and his brother to Christianity. They were all martyrs for the faith in the reign of Septimius Severus. Chaucer has celebrated this legend in the “ Second Nonne's Tale,” which is almost a literal translation from the “ Golden Legend” of Jacobus Januensis. As all professions and fraternities, in ancient times, made choice of a tutelar saint, Cecilia was elected the protectress of music and musicians. It was even believed that she had invented the organ, although no good authority can be discovered for such an assertion. Her festival was celebrated from an early period by those of the profession over whom she presided.
The revival of letters, with the Restoration, was attended with a similar resuscitation of the musical art; but the formation of a Musical Society, for the annual commemoration of St Cecilia's day, did not take place until 1680. An ode, written for the occasion, was set to music by the most able professor, and rehearsed before the society and their stewards upon the 22d November, the day dedicated to the patroness. The first effusions of this kind are miserable enough. Mr Malone has preserved a few verses of an ode, by an anonymous author, in 1633 ; that of 1684 was furnished by Oldham, whom our author has commemorated by an elegy ; that of 1685 was written by Nahum Tate, and is given by Mr Malone, Vol. I. p. 274. There was no performance in 1686; and, in 1687, Dryden furnished the following ode, which was set to music by Draghi, an eminent Italian composers Of the annual festival, Motteux gives the following account:
6 The 22d of November, being St Cecilia's day, is observed throughout all Europe by the lovers of music. In Italy, Germany, France, and other countries, prizes are distributed on that day, in some of the most considerable towns, to such as make the best anthem in her praise. ..... On that day, or the next when it falls on a Sunday, ... most of the lovers of music, whereof many are persons of the first rank, meet at Stationers' Hall in London, not through a principle of superstition, but to propagate the advancement of that divine science. A splendid entertainment is provided, and before it is always a performance of music, by the best voices and hands in town: the words, which are always in the patronesses praise, are set by some of the greatest masters. This year (1691] Dr John Blow, that famous musician, composed the music; and Mr D'Urfey, whose skill in things of that nature is well known, made the words. Six stewards are chosen for each ensuing year; four of which are either persons of quality or gentlemen of note, and the two last either gentlemen of their majesties music, or some of the chief masters in town...... This feast is one of the genteelest in the world ; there are no formalities nor gatherings as at others, and the appearance there is always very splendid. Whilst the company is at table, the hautboys and trumpets play successively."
The merit of the following Ode has been so completely lost in that of “ Alexander's Feast,” that few readers give themselves even the trouble of attending to it. Yet the first stanza has exquisite merit; and although the power of music is announced, in those which follow, in a manner more abstracted and general, and, therefore, less striking than when its influence upon Alexander and his chiefs is placed before our eyes, it is perhaps only our intimate acquaintance with the second ode that leads us to undervalue the first, although containing the original ideas, so exquisitely brought out and embodied in “ Alexander's Feast.”
ST CECILIA'S DAY,
220 NOVEMBER, 1687.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began: When nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay, And could not heave her head, The tuneful voice was heard from high,
“ Arise, ye more than dead.” Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry, In order to their stations leap,
And Music's power obey.. From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began; From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
His listening brethren stood around,
To worship that celestial sound:
Within the hollow of that shell,
That spoke so sweetly, and so well. What passion cannot music raise and quell?
Excites us to arms,
And mortal alarms.
Of the thundering drum,
Cries, hark! the foes come:
* The diapason, with musicians, is a chord including all notes. Perhaps Dryden remembered Spenser's allegorical description of the human figure and faculties :
“ The frame thereof seemed partly circular,
And part triangular; 0, work divine!".
The one imperfect, mortal, feminine,
The other immortal, perfect, masculine;
Proportioned equally by seven and nine;
Fairy Queen, Book II. canto ix. stanza 22.