Dryden (1687) John Dryden wrote "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day" at the request of the stewards of a musical society in charge of annual November 22 festivities celebrating the patroness of music. The custom of requesting lyrics from poets had begun in England in 1683 in imitation of the Continental ritual. Drayton's ode was set to music by Giovanni Baptista Draghi, designed for a five-part chorus with orchestra. It would later be reset by G. F. Handel.
Dryden opened the song with the traditional creation scene and closed with the world's end. His theme focused on the power of music to uplift as well as to settle the passions, described traditionally as to "raise and quell." His stanzas represent a progress piece of instruments in a survey of the history of the human race, beginning with Jubal. According to the biblical book of Genesis 4:21 Jubal was the father of all harpists and organists. Dryden concluded with homage to the martyred St. Cecilia, who supposedly invented the organ. He drew on multiple sources for this most traditional of songs, arousing varying emotions with each stanza, as befitted the "raise and quell" theme. The poem's gathering momentum is skillfully supported by Dryden's beginning with a long stanza, shortening succeeding stanzas, and then lengthening them again.
The opening 15-line stanza employs alliteration and word repetition, common to songs, in its first line as it focuses on the beginning of time: "From harmony, from heav'nly harmony / This universal frame began." God is equated with music, his "tuneful voice" from the heavens organizing what was at first simply "a heap / Of jarring atoms." Dryden adds God's dialogue, understanding its stunning effect when delivered by a full choir: "Arise, ye more than dead." The four basic elements respond to God's cry, and the earlier line regarding harmony, symbolic of the creation of the world, is again repeated. Dryden's use of enjamb-
ment propels the reader/singer forward, supporting the mounting excitement:
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry
In order to their stations leap
And Music's pow'r obey.
From harmony, from heav'nly harmony
This universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Stanza 2 asks in nine lines, "What passion cannot Music raise and quell!" with a reference to Jubal's striking "the corded shell" suggesting to readers another beginning, that of the playing of instruments. So stunned are Jubal's listeners by the "celestial sound" that they fall "on their faces." Dryden again associates music with divinity, as his speaker notes Jubal's audience believed no "Less than a god" dwells "Within the hollow of that shell." That stanza ends with a declaration of the theme, "What passion cannot music raise and quell!"
The third stanza introduces the trumpet, which "Excites us to arms / With shrill notes of anger," emphasizing anger as a passion. Dryden imitates sound with words when he next describes "The double double double beat / Of the thund'ring drum." Eight lines complete that stanza, with only four lines completing stanza 4, which focuses on the flute. It discovers the passion of "woe" of "hopeless lovers" through its soft complaint. Dryden offers a contrast in stanza 5 by introducing violins, their passion jealousy. They express
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion
For the fair, disdainful dame.
Dryden continues to move the song forward with alliteration and the use of enjambment, in which the fourth of the five lines carries the reader into the next.
As the stanzas begin again to expand in length, the sixth praises in six lines the human voice, its "Notes inspiring holy love," finding their way up to heaven "To mend the choirs above." In the last seven-line stanza before the chorus Dryden alludes to Orpheus, a mythological musician whose music charmed not only animals, but also inanimate objects in nature, as "trees unrooted left their place" in response to the music of his lyre. However, Cecilia occupies the highest place of praise, her organ moving humans to contemplate the divine:
When to her organ vocal breath was giv'n,
An angel heard and straight appear'd, Mistaking earth for Heaven.
The chorus in nine lines concludes the song, reminding their listeners that the world will end with the blast of a trumpet, as predicted in the Bible. Dryden uses the FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE (FIGURE OF SPEECH) of metaphor to refer to life on earth as "This crumbling pageant." The song concludes with the triumphant declaration "The dead shall live, the living die, / And music shall untune the sky."
A decade later Dryden would write a second song in celebration of St. Cecilia's Day, "Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power of Music." Handel would also set this second song to music.
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