Commissioned by the Musicians Benevolent Fund in the name of Sir Thomas Armstrong and first performed at the Festival of Saint Cecilia Service in Westminster Cathedral on 19 November 2008 by the combined choirs of Westminster Cathedral, St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey under the direction of Martin Baker.

  • SATB
  • 5 min

Programme Note

Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, has long been commemorated by composers in their works, which have often taken an upbeat and celebratory tone. Without wishing to detract from these many great compositions, I wanted to take a more poignant view of the ideas of 'song' and 'voice' with regard to the general St Cecilia motif.

The accepted account of her martyrdom is particularly gruesome. Sentenced to death in Sicily in the second century for her conversion to Christianity, her executioner attempted to decapitate her three times. After the third attempt, her head still not severed, he fled the scene in astonishment. She survived for three more days and it is during her prolonged death that she began to sing. It is this violent act which marks her connection with musicians. While St Cecilia’s association with ‘song’ has often been represented in a festive manner, here I wanted to draw attention to the history behind the relationship.

Tarik O’Regan
October, 2008