Hyperion Records

Hymn to Saint Cecilia, Op 27
First line:
In a garden shady this holy lady
completed 'at sea', spring 1942; dedicated to Elizabeth Mayer; SSATB unaccompanied
author of text
three poems comprising A Song to St Cecilia, dedicated to Britten

'Hymns to Saint Cecilia' (CDA68047)
Hymns to Saint Cecilia
Pre-order CD by post £10.50 CDA68047  3 November 2014 Release  
'Allegri: Miserere' (SIGCD085)
Allegri: Miserere
SIGCD085  Download only   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Britten: Saint Nicolas & Hymn to Saint Cecilia' (CDH55378)
Britten: Saint Nicolas & Hymn to Saint Cecilia
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55378  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Track 7 on CDA68047 [11'12] 3 November 2014 Release
Track 10 on CDH55378 [9'56] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 6 on SIGCD085 [10'59] Download only

Hymn to Saint Cecilia, Op 27
In May 1939 Britten departed with Pears for America in the wake of their poet friend W H Auden. The professional association between Auden and Britten dated back to 1936 and the GPO Film Unit. It had been a fruitful one and was to remain so a little longer, but by 1942 the conservative musician had become alienated from Auden’s brand of bohemianism, and was beginning to find the poet’s penchant for verbal gymnastics (much in evidence in Paul Bunyan for example) no longer to his taste. Britten began to feel rootless and increasingly homesick. At last, spurred on by the chance discovery of E M Forster’s article on the poet Crabbe in the Spring of 1942, he and Pears decided to return home.

The departure from America coincided with Britten’s final severance from Auden’s influence, but just before he left he began work on a setting of Auden’s three poems ‘A Song to St Cecilia’. These were dedicated to him (Britten’s birthday fell on St Cecilia’s Day, 22 November), but he found himself unable to complete the work. The voyage, however, proved therapeutic; his creative imagination began to work again and the Hymn to St Cecilia was finished, as the score proclaims, ‘at sea’. So was A Ceremony of Carols. In a sense these two works represent an end and a new beginning. The Auden setting signifies the end of the appeal of tricksy rhyming, and puts a final closure to the charges of false sophistication and glib facility that had sometimes been levelled at Britten’s early work. The medieval carols on the other hand signal the return to something fundamentally English, deep rooted, familiar, and conservative in the best sense.

The Hymn to St Cecilia is set for five-part unaccompanied chorus. The three poems, ‘In a garden shady’, ‘I cannot grow’, and ‘O ear whose creatures cannot wish to fall’ are linked by the litany

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

At certain junctures in his final poem Auden, like Dryden before him, refers to specific instruments—violin, flute, drum and trumpet—but Britten, having no orchestra, studiously avoids any temptation to imitate, inserting instead short isolated solo cadenzas which serve the dual purpose of suggesting an instrumental source while, more importantly, directing the listener’s attention to some of Auden’s most powerfully emotive lines. A repeat of the ‘Blessed Cecilia’ quatrain brings this concentrated and imaginative work to a close.

from notes by Kenneth Dommett © 1988

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDH55378 track 10
Recording date
8 October 1988
Recording venue
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Britten: Saint Nicolas & Hymn to Saint Cecilia (CDA66333)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: February 1989
    Deletion date: February 2009
    Superseded by CDH55378
  2. Britten: Saint Nicolas & Hymn to Saint Cecilia (CDH55378)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: October 2009
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
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