St. Cecilia has long been regarded as the tutelary saint of music and musicians, but the period at which she was first so looked upon is involved in obscurity. There is a tradition that an angel by whom she was visited was attracted to earth by the charms of her singing, but when it originated is equally unknown. Early writers make no mention of her skill in music; even as late as 1594 a long Italian poem by Castelletti, entitled 'La Trionfatrice Cecilia, Vergine e Martire Romana,' was published at Florence, which does not allude to it. It is certain however that nearly a century before she had been considered as Music's patroness, for in 1502 a musical society was established in Louvain, the statutes of which were submitted to the magistrate for his sanction. The founders desired to place the new association under the patronage of 'St. Job,' but the decided that it should be put under the auspices of St. Cecilia.
For a very long time the custom of celebrating upon St. Cecilia's festival (Nov. 22) the praise of music by musical performances existed in various countries, and many associations were formed for the purpose. The earliest of such associations of which any notice has been found was established in 1571, at Evreux in Normandy, under the title of 'Le Puy de Musique.' A solemn celebration of vespers and complin took place in the cathedral on the vigil; high mass, vespers and complin were performed on the feast day, and a requiem mass for the souls of departed founders on the morrow. A banquet was given after mass on the feast day, and prizes were awarded for the best motets, part-songs, airs, and sonnets. The best composers of the day were competitors for these prizes, and amongst those who obtained them are found the names of Orlando de Lasso, Eustache du Caurroy, and Jacques Salmon.
It was a century later before any similar association was regularly established in England. In 1683 a body of persons known as 'The Musical Society,' held the first of a series of annual celebrations. Their practice was to attend Divine worship (usually at St. Bride's church), when a choral service and anthem with orchestral accompaniments (often composed expressly for the festival), were performed by an exceptionally large number of musicians, and a sermon, usually in defence of cathedral music, was preached. They then repaired to another place (commonly Stationers' Hall), where an ode in praise of music, written and composed expressly for the occasion, was performed, after which they sat down to an entertainment. These odes were written by Dryden (1687 and 1697), Shadwell, Congreve, D'Urfey, Hughes, and other less-known writers, and composed by Henry Purcell (1683 and 1692), Blow (1684, lOoi, 1695, and 1700), Draghi, Eccles, Jeremiah Clarke, and others of lesser note. Purcell produced for 1694 his 'Te Deum and Jubilate in D,' and Blow his for 1695. These celebrations were kept uninterruptedly (with the exception of the years 1686, 1688, and 1689) until 1703, after which they were held only occasionally. Pope wrote his fine ode in 1708, but it was not set to music until 1730, and then in an altered and abbreviated form by Dr. Greene, as the exercise for his doctor's degree. It was first set in its original form about 1757 by William Walond, organist of Chichester cathedral, and at a much later period by Dr. Thomas Busby. In 1736 Handel reset Dryden's 'Alexander's Feast,' originally composed in 1697 by Jeremiah Clark, and in 1739 [App. p.583 "1740"] Dryden's first ode, originally set in 1687 by Draghi. Odes were composed at various periods by Drs. Pepusch and Boyce, by Festing, Samuel Wesley, and others.
About the same time that the London celebrations were established similar meetings were held at Oxford, for which odes were written by Addison, Yalden, and others, and set by Blow, Daniel Purcell, etc. These meetings were continued until 1708, and perhaps biter. Other places followed the example, as Winchester, Gloucester, Devizes, and Salisbury. At the latter place, in 1748 (the time of holding it having previously been changed), the meeting was extended to two days, and gradually developed into the modern musical festival, oratorios being performed at the cathedral in the morning, and secular concerts at the Assembly Room in the evening.
There are some records of a musical celebration having taken place on St. Cecilia's day in Edinburgh in 1695, and in the early part of the 18th century several took place in St. Patrick's cathedral, Dublin.
In Paris some years since it was the custom to have a solemn mass performed in the fine church of St. Eustache on St. Cecilia's day, for the benefit of the Society of Artist Musicians. On these occasions a new mass, composed expressly by some eminent musician, was usually produced. Amongst those who wrote such masses were Adolph Adam, Niedermeyer (1849), Dietsch, Gounod (1855), and Ambroise Thomas (1857).
Musical celebrations on St. Cecilia's day are recorded as having taken place at various periods in Italy, Germany, and elsewhere. Spohr composed a 'Hymn to St. Cecilia' for the Cecilian Society at Cassel in 1823, and Moritz Hauptmann another for the same society in the following year.It only remains to allude to the fact of St. Cecilia having long been a favourite subject with poets and painters: from Chaucer to Barry Cornwall, from Raffaelle to Delaroche, her story has frequently been set forth in verse and on canvas.
[ W. H. H. ]
[ P. D. ]