I am increasingly alarmed, and at a personal level much disheartened by the attacks on music, and banning of it, within some forms of Islam. (Sufism excepted). One must also not forget that music was virtually banned in the UK by Cromwell (a Christian Puritan) who was the military dictator of England between 1649 to 1658 (approx dates). This was the only time there has not been a Monarch in the UK in over a thousand years. Cromwell was the leading signatory of the King’s execution document, and then went after music loving Catholics as if they were vermin. It seems that religious fanaticism, be it Islamic or Christian, has a major psychological problem with music of all forms. (There might be a good thesis on this for someone who is interested in the fanatical psychology of anti-musicians!)
According to legend, Saint Cecilia was a woman of Roman birth who lived in England, and who was martyred for her Christian faith around the year 230 AD. Having resolved to live celibately, a crisis occurred when, without her consent, Cecilia’s father betrothed her to a certain Valerian. The wedding day arrived and whilst instruments were playing, Cecilia inspired by the music, sung in her heart to God alone. On their wedding night Cecilia told her new husband of her devotion to chastity and this was respected.
Cecilia’s devotion entranced her husband, and together, they spoke their faith, until they were captured and executed for their Christianity. . Cecilia was arrested after her husband’s execution, refused to renounce her religion, and was condemned to death by three blows to the neck. Cecilia remained alive for three days, during which time she gave all her possessions to the poor.
In 1683, to their credit the founders of the UK Musical Society, specifically to counteract the Puritan view that music, whether sacred or secular, was dangerous fare, started their work. – for it was an opinion that had strongly survived Cromwell that music was of the devil. . In remembrance of that event in 1683, and to keep St Cecilia’s Day, a sermon is now preached in defence of cathedral music, and an Anthem newly written every year for the Festival, and performed at St Brides.. The composer at the first Festival was Purcell.
In the middle of the war against fascism, in 1942 , Benjamin Britten, whose birthday was on St Cecilia’s Day, revived the practice of composing an Ode in honour of St Cecilia. Since then, the Musicians Benevolent Fund has organised the Festival to give thanks for, and celebrate music and musicians.
I always felt in touch with music my whole life, though not a musician. I felt very in touch with it during the heights of sannyas, and remain moved that I was part of something that so embraced it. I also feel very grateful to have been born in these Isles that gave short shrift to fanatical puritanism….