Hymn to St Cecilia, Op. 27 is a choral piece by Benjamin Britten (1913–1976), a setting of a poem by W. H. Auden written between 1940 and 1942. Britten had wanted to write a piece dedicated to St Cecilia for a number of reasons. Firstly, he was born on St Cecilia’s day; secondly, St Cecilia is the patron saint of music; and finally, there is a long tradition in England of writing odes and songs to St Cecilia.
Edward Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British music and composed a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces.
Britten composed the piece as three contrasting movements which are described here:
The three ‘movements’ are completely different from each other. The first has a kind of ‘ground bass’ moving through it started by the tenors in the first bar and passing between them and the basses. Over this bass, the upper parts sing flowing compound time phrases which are almost hymn-like. The refrain at the end of the verse is a unison version of the initial flowing melody sung by the sopranos.
The second section is a scherzo which gives Britten his ‘middle movement’ contrast. This is marked to be sung extremely quickly. A feeling of the ‘ground bass’ from the first section returns as a binding motif throughout this section in long notes.
The final section is more extended and begins with an ostinato bass which feels slightly menacing. Over this, Britten builds contrapuntal phrases in the upper parts with longer note values. Four solo voices are featured in the next section. The final refrain uses the familiar melody from the opening and brings the work to its quiet end.