Thursday, 21 November 2013

St. Cecilia's Day

by Silvana Sultana

st-ceciliaToday, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Cecilia, considered the patron saint of musicians and church music.

Her story dates back to the second century and her feast was included in the liturgical calendar in the fourth century. It is believed that she, a noble Roman Lady suffered martyrdom with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius and a soldier Maximus under the Emperor Alexander Severus.

It is said that during her wedding, as the musicians played, she sang in her hearth to the Lord. The legend continues with Cecilia’s death narrating that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days and asked the Pope to convert her home into a church. The original church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome was constructed in the fourth century and in the ninth century the saint’s remains were placed there.  The church was reconstructed in 1599.

She had inspired many great composers or poets who penned masterpieces in her honour. Among the most famous one finds: ‘Ode to St. Cecilia’ by Purcell and another one by George Frederick Handel and the oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Gounod composed the ‘Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile’ and so did Benjamin Britten who was born on her feast day.

The eternal city of Rome boasts of the oldest musical institution in the world – the National Academy of Santa Cecilia. It was founded by Pope Sixtus V in 1585 promoting two Western musical and historical saints in the field of music: Gregory the Great, whose name is related to the Gregorian Chant and to Saint Cecilia, the patroness of music.

Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci who passed away on the 11th November, was an academician at the Accademia and conducted its choir in various occasions, including a tour in the former Soviet Union. Cardinal Bartolucci’s message was always that of taking music seriously by studying and singing the proper church music during the liturgy.

On this special day, queries arise on what is music or how to become a great musician. The reply should always be that most rational: the best music is that studied deeply with a heart and expressed with a feeling…the rest is just sound.

Living in a very hectic world we tend to seldom appreciate or distinguish the quality produced, the sacrifices and long hours of study that lie behind.  It is time that the Authorities and Education in Malta start considering music on par with other academic subjects and give due credit and support to those who produce good music.

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