15 June 2009

The Academy of Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia ... the patron saint of music and musicians

Patrick Comerford

The Academy of Saint Cecilia, a learned society for those with a professional interest in early music, held its convocation for 2009 on Saturday last, 13 June, in an appropriately named venue – Saint Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. The convocation was held on the same day as the academy’s Chant Study Day in Saint Cecilia’s Abbey.

The academy has a particular interest in music before 1825, especially liturgical music, including Gregorian and Sarum chant. iThe latest edition of the academy’s magazine, Vox, includes papers by Christopher Shoebridge on John Blow (1649-1708), Composer to the Chapel Royal, whose students included Henry Purcell, and by Alistair Dixon on William Mundy (ca 1529-1591), the youngest of a group of composers that included Thomas Tallis, John Sheppard and Christopher Tye.

I was sorry to miss both the convocation and the chant study day. I was recently elected a Fellow of the Academy of Saint Cecilia (FASC), and there was a conferring ceremony for newly-elected fellows during the convocation.

The Academy of Saint Cecilia takes its name from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, which was in effect the musicians’ union in 17th century Rome, where its members included Corelli, Pasquini and Alessandro Scarlatti.

The Academy of Saint Cecilia is a international, learned society, with members worldwide. It is not an examining body, but from time-to-time the chapter awards honorary fellowships in recognition of an individual’s musical contribution.

The patrons of the academy are the Marquess of Londonderry and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the vice patrons are Dr James Bowman, Dr Naji Hakim, and Monica Huggett.

The Master is Mark Johnson, and other members of the chapter include Nick Gale (secretary), John McIntosh (Dean and Education Adviser), Paula Chandler (treasurer), Alistair Dixon (Director of Communications), Nicholas O’Neill (Composer-in-Residence), Graham Hawkes (archivist), Sebastian Budner (Director of Publications) and Dr Reinhard Strohm, Emeritus Heather Professor of Music, Oxford University (academic adviser).

The chant day also offered an enticing programme. Saint Cecilia’s Abbey in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, was founded early in the last century by exiled nuns from Saint Cecilia’s, Solesmes, fleeing the French anti-clerical laws of the day. Those laws also forced the monks of Solesmes to Quarr, also on the Isle of Wight.

When the laws were relaxed, both the nuns and monks returned to Solesmes, but a small community continues at both Ryde and Quarr to this day. About 30 nuns live under the Rule of Saint Benedict at Saint Cecilia’s. This is the only Solesmes house for women in these islands and the entire liturgy, both the Mass and the Divine Office, is sung daily in Latin to Gregorian Chant, using the new Solesmes Antiphonale of Dom Saulnier, published last year.

This month’s chant day was hosted by the Master and Chapter of the Academy and by Sister Bernadette, Saint Cecilia’s choir mistress and resident chant expert. Sister Bernadette is a disciple of Dom Saulnier of Solesmes, and she is an expert on the semiological chant interpretation of Dom Cardine and the very latest chant scholarship. She was assisted by Professor John Calwell of the University of Oxford.

It would have been wonderful to have been present both for the academy’s convocation and for the Chant Study Day. However, the latest edition of Vox announces that the academy is sponsoring a major international chant convention in Belfast next October.

Tutors at this event in Berlfast will include a major Parisian titulaire, as well as leading chant and liturgical scholars from around Europe, including Professor Nick Sandon, Dr Alcuin Reid and Father Peter Allan. The programme includes seminars on various aspects of Greogorian and Sarum chant, organ accompaniment and improvisation and liturgical practice.

Quarr Abbey website: www.quarrabbey.co.uk

Saint Cecilia’s Abbey website: www.stceciliasabbey.org.uk.

The Academy of Saint Cecilia website: http://www.academyofsaintcecilia.com

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute

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