Ode to St. Cecilia (Purcell)
Hail! Bright Cecilia (Z.328), also known as Ode to St. Cecilia, was composed by Henry Purcell to a text by the Irishman Nicholas Brady in 1692 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 1683, organised by the Musical Society of London, a group of musicians and music lovers. Purcell had already written Cecilian pieces in previous years, but this Ode remains the best known. The first performance was a great success, and received an encore.
Brady's poem was derived from John Dryden's A Song for St Cecilia's Day in 1687, which suggested that Cecilia invented the organ. With a text full of references to musical instruments, the work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments.  Brady extols the birth and personality of musical instruments and voices, and Purcell treats these personalities as if they were dramatic characters. The airs employ a variety of dance forms.  "Hark, each Tree" is a sarabande on a ground. It is a duet on a ground-bass between, vocally, soprano and bass, and instrumentally, between recorders and violins ("box and fir" are the woods used in the making of these instruments). "With That Sublime Celestial Lay" and "Wond'rous Machine" are in praise of the organ.  "Thou tun'st this World" is set as a minuet. "In vain the am'rous Flute" is set to a passacaglia bass.  In spite of Brady's conceit of the speaking forest (It should be remembered that English organs of the period typically had wooden pipes), Purcell scored the warlike music for two brass trumpets and copper kettle drums instead of fife and (field) drum. The orchestra also includes two recorders (called flutes) with a bass flute, two oboes (called hautboys), strings and basso continuo.
Purcell is one of several composers who have written music in honour of Cecilia.
- Symphony (overture): Introduction—Canzona—Adagio—Allegro—Grave—Allegro (repeat)
- Recitative (bass) and chorus: Hail! Bright Cecilia
- Duet ('treble' [though range would suggest alto] and bass): Hark! hark! each tree
- Air (countertenor): 'Tis Nature's voice
- Chorus: Soul of the world
- Air (soprano) and chorus: Thou tun’st this world
- Trio (alto, tenor and bass): With that sublime celestial lay
- Air (bass): Wondrous machine!
- Air (countertenor): The airy violin
- Duet (countertenor and tenor): In vain the am’rous flute
- Air (countertenor): The fife and all the harmony of war
- Duet (two basses): Let these among themselves contest
- Chorus: Hail! Bright Cecilia, hail to thee
|2. Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail! fill ev'ry Heart!
With Love of thee and thy Celestial Art;
3. Hark! hark! each Tree its silence breaks,
4. 'Tis Natures's Voice; thro' all the moving Wood
5. Soul of the World! Inspir'd by thee,
6. Thou tun'st this World below, the Spheres above,
7. With that sublime Celestial Lay
|8. Wondrous Machine!
To thee the Warbling Lute,
9. The Airy Violin
11. The Fife and all the Harmony of War,
12. Let these amongst themselves contest,
13. Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
- Gentleman's Journal, Nov. 1692, cited in Rimbault's edition, London: Musical Antiquarian Society Publications, 1848, p. 2.
- CD liner notes, Purcell: Odes & Funeral Music [CD], Virgin Classics Ltd, 7243 5 61582 2 1