Handel’s Saint Cecilia Ode

Sudip Bose at the American Scholar:

If music is the agent of creation, it remains, for those on earth, a reminder of the divine. It is at once a celestial gift and a personification of human emotions. For both Dryden and Handel, music can be blissful and serene, as in the “What passion cannot music raise and quell!”—a movement that also features two extended, heartfelt solos, the soprano dovetailing beautifully with the cello. It can inspire us to war—“The trumpet’s loud clangor / Excites us to arms / With shrill notes of anger. / And mortal alarms”—the trumpet and tenor sounding the battle cry, and the martial roll of the timpani (corresponding to “The double double double beat / Of the thund’ring drum …”) truly bringing our blood to the boil. Music can reflect our jealousy, our pain, our anger, our desperation. And in quieter moments, it can mirror feelings of deep melancholy. In the movement commencing with “The soft complaining flute,” Handel contrasts the sad desolation of the solo flute and lute continuo (the timbres becoming magical with the addition of the soprano’s voice) with some spectacular coloratura on the word warbling in “Whose dirge is whisper’d by the warbling lute.” More passages of impressive coloratura come later, though in Handel’s hands, this writing never amounts to mere showing off, to virtuosity for its own sake. Rather, the florid embellishments always seem to enhance meaning, aligning text and music to the greatest effect.

more here.