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St Cecilia Festival Celebrates Britten Centenary

Wednesday, 20th November 2013

St Cecilia Festival Celebrates Britten Centenary

A Service to Mark the Festival of St Cecilia was held at Westminster Abbey in conjunction with the Musicians Benevolent Fund on Wednesday 20th November 2013.

This year’s Festival of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, marked the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten.

During the service a wreath was laid at the memorial stone to Benjamin Britten by Dame Janet Baker CH DBE accompanied by Grace Durham, Guildhall School of Music & Drama; Anna Harvey, Royal Academy of Music; Peter Kirk, Royal College of Music; and William Davies, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

The service was sung by the combined choirs of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral conducted by James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers, Westminster Abbey. The organ was played during the service by Daniel Cook, Sub-Organist, Westminster Abbey; before the service by Peter Stevens, Assistant Master of Music, Westminster Cathedral and afterwards by Simon Johnson, Organist and Assistant Director of Music, St Paul’s Cathedral.

The choirs sang On a Drop of Dew composed by Robin Holloway and specially commissioned for the service by the Musicians Benevolent Fund.

The service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, who said in his Bidding:

We gather to worship almighty God and to praise him: first to give thanks for the patient example of faithful endurance given us by his saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr, and then to give thanks for God’s gracious gift of music which has the power to bring us closer to the beauty and harmony of God himself, the holy and undivided Trinity.
We gather in this ancient and holy place where almighty God has been worshipped day after day, week after week, year after year for over a thousand years: truly a House of God, a place of encounter with the sacred, the divine. God does not need our worship; but we need to worship God in order not to worship the passing fancies of this world, to worship the contingent, or even to worship ourselves.
This holy place is also a House of Kings, where over three thousand of the great men and women of our island story are honoured, buried or memorialised. Among them are some great musicians. Near the graves of Henry Purcell and Ralph Vaughan Williams is a memorial, unveiled by Sir Lennox Berkeley in 1978, to Benjamin Britten, whose centenary of birth we celebrate this week. We shall honour his memory, as we pray for all those who participate in the creative work of God by making music.

Dame Janet Baker CH DBE read Genesis 22: 1-13, Ian Bostridge CBE read Ephesians 5: 6-10; 15-20; and James Bowman read The Composer by W.H. Auden.

The Address was given the Reverend Lucy Winkett, Rector, St James’s, Piccadilly.

Prayers were led by the Reverend Dr James Hawkey, Minor Canon and Sacrist of Westminster, and said by Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor, St Paul’s Cathedral; the Reverend Alexander Master, Precentor, Westminster Cathedral; and the Reverend Ronald Corp.

See also:

Reverend Lucy Winkett's Address

The Musicians Benevolent Fund's website

The biggest challenge we face is maintaining such a large physical collection of material within a historic building – believe it or not, there’s just not enough space for it all.

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