This work, composed in response to a commission from the University Wisconsin-Madison School of Music to celebrate their 150th anniversary, was written during the Fall of 1998 and early Winter of 1999.
In any work using singers, the choice of text is obviously very important, and also important that it should reflect in some way the occasion that it celebrates. The poem of John Dryden, A Song for St Cecilia’s Day, written over three hundred years ago still seems to me to be a wonderful way to acknowledge this anniversary, particularly since the performance is scheduled within a few days of St Cecilia’s birthday, who, as we all know is the patron Saint of music.
In the poem Dryden recognizes the power of music in all its many forms and this idea is perhaps best summed up in the words of the second verse – What passion cannot Music raise and quell! Then there are all the different instruments that personify the various emotions:- the warlike trumpet and drums; the ‘soft complaining flute’ describing the woes of hopeless lovers; the ‘sharp violins’ with their jealous pangs and frantic indignation, (the ‘sharpness’ of the violins referring to the recent introduction of this instrument when 17th century ears were more accustomed to the gentler sounds of the viol); then there is the lyre in connection with Orpheus who appears in the seventh verse.
Another vital element of music is harmony and Dryden enfolds the whole poem with this thought. The opening lines ‘From harmony, from heavenly harmony’ which bestirs Nature to ‘obey Music’s power’ and at the very end where music’s power causes The spheres to move, and sing the great Creator’s praise…’
Preview the score