St Cecilia's Day

Posted by Jenny Batt on Monday, November 22, 2010 with No comments
One of the miscellanies I’m currently working with is The Virgin Muse (1717, ESTC T124513; here’s a link to the 1722 reissue), which features among its 125 poems, ‘Alexander’s Feast; or the Power of Musick: An Ode, in Honour of St. Cecilia’s Day. By Mr Dryden’ (123-128). This is rather appropriate, because today is St. Cecilia’s Day.

St Cecilia is the patron saint of music and musicians, and Dryden’s ‘Alexander’s Feast’ is one of a number of poems written in commemoration of 22 November in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Indeed, it was Dryden’s second poem on the subject, following on from his earlier ‘A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day 1687.’ Alongside these two Dryden pieces, other St. Cecilia’s Day odes in the Digital Miscellanies Index include poems attributed to Thomas Shadwell; Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon; Joseph Addison; Alexander Pope; William Congreve; and Henry Hall. The miscellany with the greatest concentration of these odes is The Fourth Part of Miscellany Poems (1716, ESTC N64834), which features five of them.

Many of the odes were designed to be set to music: perhaps most famously, Handel composed major settings for the two Dryden odes in the 1730s. So here’s the beginning of his 'Alexander’s Feast':