Alexander’s Feast will be performed by the Southport Bach Choir on Saturday, 24 June 2017, with chamber orchestra and soloists:
Hayley Swanton (Soprano)
Andrew Masterson (Tenor)
Ed Robinson (Bass)
The work is a setting of Dryden’s poem of the same name, a poem that had been written explicitly for musical performance and that functions as a celebration of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, whose nameday falls on 22 November.
Her story – which may, or may not be true – is that she was a Roman woman forced to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian, despite her vow of chastity. During the wedding, it is said, Cecilia sat apart singing to God in her heart, and this led to her later being declared the patron saint of musicians. The story goes that Valerian saw her guardian angel crowning Cecilia with a chaplet of roses and converted to Christianity. Cecilia’s martyrdom followed that of both Valerian and his brother Tiburtius. She is supposed to have lived on for 3 days after having been struck on the neck by a sword.
It’s not surprising, I suppose, to find that composers are attracted to the idea of writing music in honour of St Cecilia, and the Southport Bach Choir has performed quite a few of these works over the years, most frequently Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia. This is a setting of a poem by W.H.Auden, written between 1940 and 1942. Auden’s words celebrate the power of music and pray for its ability to bring peace to mankind. On two occasions the choir’s programme also included Haydn’s St Cecilia Mass. We have also performed Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass and Herbert Howell’s Hymn for St Cecilia.
Handel in fact wrote two pieces in St Cecilia’s honour, and his Ode to St Cecilia was included in the choir’s 1983/4 season. There are still other pieces which the SBC hasn’t ever performed: a Purcell Ode to St Cecilia, oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a setting by Gerald Finzi of a poem by Edmund Blunden, and an Ode on St Cecilia’s Day by Hubert Parry.
The concert on 24 June will take place at Holy Trinity Church, Southport, 7.30pm.
Tickets: £12, at the door or in advance from 01704 535208/564205.