On their way - Gounod Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile

England football team on their way

England football team on their way

I heard on the radio this morning that Roy Hodgson is insisting that every member of the England Football Team sing God Save the Queen before each match (do we assume by this that some of them don't know it?).  World Cup fever is building and our house is festooned with those wretched football stickers.  I am all for a re-vote over Qatar, clearly FIFA is very corrupt, but haven't we all known that for years?

Charles Gounod

Charles Gounod

I learnt a new word this week which is "Hagiography", for those of you who like me don't know what it means, it is the story of the lives of saints.  It very much applies to this weeks recording which is Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile by the French composer Charles Gounod (1818-1893).  The Hagiography of Sainte Cecile is rather a grim tale.  Around the year of 177, the Romans persecuted Cecilia for her Christianity.  After trying to boil her alive they then tried to cut of her head.  Miraculously she survived for three days.  Cecile became the patron saint for music rather by mistake in that a latin transcription of the word "organis" under a portrait of her was misinterpreted to mean that Cecilia herself played the organ.  Thus when the Academy of Music was opened in Rome in 1584, Cecilia was made it's patron saint.

George Pretre

George Pretre

During his lifetime Charles Gounod was a leading French composer known mainly for his operas.  The church was a recurrent theme in his life and in 1846 he gave serious consideration to joining the priesthood but changed his mind just before taking Holy Orders.  He found much inspiration in the religious paintings of Michaelangelo and the music of Palestrina, for a while he referred to himself as Abbe Gounod.  During the 1870s he lived in London where he ran a choir at the newly opened Royal Albert Hall and where his oratorios were very well received.  His music has a grandiose style although in the Saint Cecile Mass he balances it well as it is also tender and intimate.  Hundreds of masses have been written before and after this one, yet in terms of lyrical beauty, the Saint Cecile Mass should rank as one of the greatest accomplishments in Western Music.

Barbara Hendricks

Barbara Hendricks

The recording I recommend is considered to be one of the best and although it was recorded in 1984, it has yet to be surpassed.  Conducted by the French conductor George Pretre who as well as being a conductor of opera was also well known for his recordings of French music.  Featuring in this recording is the African-American operatic soprano and concert singer Barbara Hendricks who is also known for her Jazz performances.  Hendricks has devoted much of her life to the plight of refugees and in 1987 was names UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.

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Posted on June 4, 2014 .