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Bright Cecilia" is an important work in the history of music. Influenced as he was by Italian writing, Purcell helped permanently integrate the Italian style into English musical composition. It also was an important influence on Handel's writing, and the history of choral music would not be the same without it.
Saint Cecilia was a third century Roman martyr, and is traditionally known as the patron saint of music and of the blind. She had vowed to remain a virgin as a child, but because she was a noblewoman, she was forced to marry. She married Valerian, a pagan, on the condition that she be allowed to remain a virgin. She told him that an angel of God had told her to take a vow of chastity, but he wanted to see the angel. He came home one day and found Cecilia speaking with the angel, and converted soon afterwards, as did his brother Tiburtius.
She was martyred by the prefect Almachius when she gave away all her possessions to the poor, against his commands. He tried to have her burned, but had to have her beheaded when the fire didn't scathe her.
Both Valerian and Tiburtius had been martyred before her, and Valerian also became a saint. She was buried in Rome, and when she was canonized, she became the patroness of music. She is often depicted playing the organ. The earliest recorded date of a public celebration of the Feast of Saint Cecilia is in at Evreaux in Normandy.
Her feast day is November They gave prizes for the finest musical compositions and the best composers entered the competition. Lassus is known to have taken part. The celebrations of the Feast of St. Cecilia in Purcell's day were not a result of these earlier celebrations. There was no continuum, as far as anyone knows. A group called the "Musical Society", a group of men that included the publisher John Playford, initiated the celebrations in The singers that took part were from Westminster Abbey Choir, St.
Paul's Cathedral, and the Chapel Royal. The musicians were from the King's band and from the theaters, so many of them were professionals.
Cecilia's Day. It was a choral work on a grand scale, and for the next twenty years it was the model that other composers emulated. The "Musical Society" didn't commission another Ode for St. Cecilia's Day from Purcell until , but other composers such as Blow, Eccles, and Clarke wrote odes for the Festivities in the meantime. In , the "Gentlemen Lovers of Musick" commissioned another ode from Mr. It has thirteen movements and sets a poem by the Reverend Nicholas Brady in praise of Cecilia, music, and the instruments of music.
Large scale choral works were new, and were inspired, in part, by a man named Giovanni Battista Draghi, an Italian with whom Purcell had studied. It is the type of choral writing that influenced Handel's compositions, and marks the beginning of the secular choral tradition in England.
It was secular choral music because the celebration of St. Cecilia's Day was a civic entertainment, put on for the entire population. The musicians that took part made money off it; it was a commercial venture for them, and the Odes that were commissioned for the celebrations were performed in public concert halls.
They added to the professional musical life of the city. In the composition of "Hail, Bright Cecilia! One of the unifying elements is the structure. Purcell walks the listener through eight key centers; he begins in D Major and minor, and two third of the way through the piece ends up in E minor.
Then he travels back again to end the work in D. He composed two large choruses, one after the opening symphony, and one at the very end, that balance one another. And at the very center is a third chorus entitled "Soul of the World". It is about the creation of the world, the creation of music, and of the resolution of all into "Perfect Harmony. The opening symphony is also highly structured, and is Purcell's most Italianate work.
It has five sections that alternate between slow and fast tempi. It is organized by key also. It opens in D major, and in between the sections in D major are sections in A minor and D minor. The opening movement is antiphonal with a gently pulsing theme of repeated notes; the strings and the trumpets and kettle drum answer one another. There follows a canzona on two subjects. There is much fugal material throughout this work, and the contrapuntal style also serves to unify and add variety.
The third movement is a beautiful dialogue between oboes and violins marked adagio. An allegro fanfare intervenes for contrast, and a slow section full of harmonic tension da capos back to the trumpet fanfare. Another way that Purcell provides unity throughout is simpler.
He connects disparate pieces together with musical material. One example is after the piece "Wondrous Machine". There are four bars at the end that tie into "The Airy Violin". The first is a musical painting of a chugging organ; the second of violins unable to keep their pitch. The texture, mood, and thematic material of the two pieces are different, but the playing didn't stop between the movements, and the connecting material allowed for continuity.
One of the ways that Purcell supplies variety is by varying the textures. First of all, Purcell had a full range of voices at his disposal, and a full orchestra. He had sopranos, altos, countertenors, tenors, and basses. He had strings including a bass viol, oboes, trumpets, flutes or recorders, including a bass recorder, and kettle drum. For any particular section of music he could use all of his resources, or as few of his resources as he liked.
He combines and recombines voices, timbres and textures throughout. This piece is continually inventive. The melodies, the countermelodies, and the accompaniments, all serve to make this imaginative and delightful on every level.
There isn't a moment of monotony in the entire work. He has a somber bass solo introduce first chorus, and has the solo texture contrast sharply with the full chorus and orchestra that follows. The declamation is florid and sets the mood for the work.
The chorus mixes fugal writing with homophonic, and is full of harmonic tension. IT is almost somber, with constant motion in the ground bass imitated in all the other voices. In the opening choral movement, he contrast a duet of two countertenors with a duet of soprano and tenor. The effect is quite startling. The range of the countertenor voice is within that of the female vocal range, but the timbre of the two voices is very dissimilar.
The tenor is the lowest voice of the four voices in this section, making it a very treble experience. And these duets interrupt a full chorus and orchestra that is busy singing a fugato on a meandering melody full of harmonic tension.
The fugato is over a continually moving ground. The theme also is in constant, regular motion. The duets that interrupt it are melismatic, and have lyrical, embellished, soaring lines, with almost a medieval quality to them. He wrote a bass duet right before the final chorus. He seemed to like the weight of the basses alone and in relief against grander choral movements.
The basses answer one another throughout, and also interact with the bass instrument. There are two sections in this full movement given to the lowest register. The first is quiet, with intertwining melodies that finally resolve.
The second builds to a climax by ornamenting the melodic line, extending it, and by breaking it up, over constant motion in the bass line.
The words "All all" are sung in an echoing fashion, and sixteenth note passages in ornamentation of the melody bring the voices back together to cadence.
The harmonic centerpiece of the work, "Wondrous Machine" is also for bass voice. It is a musical painting of a chugging organ, St. Cecilia's instrument, and is a bass solo in combination with oboes. The piece is built over a constantly moving machine-like ground and is meant to imitate the sounds of the organ.
The rich resonance of the lower register and the reedy timbre of the oboes give a realistic impression of the playing of a pipe organ. The text is about the creation of the flutes and the violins, so the instrumental writing is a duet between flutes or recorders, and violins. Over the words "And straight we grieve" there is beautiful chromatic word painting. The mood changes and the word "rejoice" is set to a four bar sixteenth passage. The chorus "Soul of the World", at the center, is a grand chorus on a large scale.
It is about the creation of the universe and the importance of music and harmony to that creation. The piece is full of imitation, word painting, and texture variation. As the words "thou didst the scattered atoms bind" are sung, scattering sixteenth notes are played over a ground bass. The chorus breaks out in canon and comes back together in homophonic style on the words "One Perfect Harmony", the binding material of the scattered atoms.
Hail, Bright Cecilia, Z.328 (Purcell, Henry)
Bright Cecilia Z. Cecilia , was composed by Henry Purcell to a text by the Irishman Nicholas Brady in in honour of the feast day of Saint Cecilia , patron saint of musicians. Annual celebrations of this saint's feast day 22 November began in , organised by the Musical Society of London , a group of musicians and music lovers. Welcome to all the pleasures Z. Bright Cecilia remains the best known. The first performance on 22 September at Stationers' Hall was a great success, and received an encore. With a text full of references to musical instruments it is suggested that Cecilia invented the organ , the work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments.
Hail, bright Cecilia (Ode for St. Cecilia's Day), for soloists, chorus & instruments, Z. 328