Handel’s “What Passion Cannot Music Raise and Quell!”: Sandrine Piau

Saint Cecilia, one of the most famous martyrs of the early church, is the patron saint of music and musicians.

Beginning in 1683, musicians in London celebrated Saint Cecilia’s Feast Day, which is November 22 on the Roman Catholic calendar. It was for this occasion that George Frederich Handel composed his cantata, Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day  in 1739. The work, which was premiered at London’s Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, is a setting of a 1687 poem by John Dryden. The poem pays homage to the Pythagorean theory of harmonia mundi, in which music was a central force in the creation of the earth and the movement of celestial bodies.

Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day includes the tender soprano aria, What passion cannot Music raise and quell! The aria’s extended cello solo represents Jubal’s lyre. Mentioned once in the Book of Genesis, in Christian liturgy Jubal has been regarded as the symbolic “inventor of music.” It is the cello’s wordless recitative which opens and closes the aria. In between, the soprano and cello lines enter into a sensuous duet filled with gloriously consonant intervals, including thirds and sixths.

Here is a recording by the renowned French soprano and Baroque specialist, Sandrine Piau.

What passion cannot music raise, and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His listening brethren stood ’round.
And wondering on their faces fell,
To worship that celestial sound!
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?

-John Dryden  

Recordings

  • Handel: A Song for St Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76 (Aria “What passion cannot Music raise and quell”), Sandrine Piau, Stefano Montanari, Accademia Bizantina Amazon

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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