What Do You Do When Your Musical.Ly Followers Are Gone November 22 – St Cecilia’s Day, and Dryden’s Poem ‘Alexander’s Feast’

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November 22 – St Cecilia’s Day, and Dryden’s Poem ‘Alexander’s Feast’

Saint Cecilia, a Roman virgin and martyr (230 AD) is traditionally the patron of music and the inventor of the organ. Dryden’s poem “Alexander’s Feast” was written on the occasion of the feast of Saint Cecilia on November 22, 1697.

The poem opens with Alexander the Great, son of Philip, King of Macedon, sitting with Thais, the lovely young Athenian courtesan, enjoying the feast in the Persian city of Persepolis for his victory over the Persian King Darius III in 331B. third. We are introduced to the court musician Timotheus with his lyre and then told that Alexander was actually the son of Job, the king of the gods, and Olympias. Thus, the “sovereign of the world” gave birth to the conqueror of the world.

Timothy sings the praises of Bacchus and the scene is full of drunken revelry. As drinking is the soldier’s sweet delight, Alexander grew up in vain and again fought all his battles in his mind. Seeing the madness in Alexander Timotheus’ eyes changes his poem to one designed to create a mood of pity. He sings of the fall of Darius, the Persian king, who was great and good, but abandoned by his own followers and his dead body left exposed on the bare ground. The joy of victory evaporates from Alexander, and he sighs and begins to shed tears. Mercy prepares the mind for love, and love is the subject of Timothy’s next poem. Alexander looks at the beautiful Thai lady and sighs. Finally, oppressed by wine and love the “defeated hero” sinks on the bosom of the Thais.

Timotheus now shifts the music to a stronger tension and rouses a sleeping Alexander into action. “Revenge,” cries Timothy. The ghosts of the Greek soldiers killed in battle cry out for revenge. The music fires Alexander with great fervor to destroy. Thais lead Alexander to burn Persepolis. In this she is like Helen, whose lust for the Trojan prince Paris led to the Greeks burning Troy.

At last came Saint Cecilia, the finder of the organ. Inspired by God, she expands the boundaries of music by adding length to musical notes. Cecilia is better than Timothy, Dryden declares. Old Timothy should give her the prize, or at least share the crown.

“He raised a mortal to heaven

She pulled an angel down.”

Timotheus elevated Alexander to heaven and created in the king’s mind an illusion of divine status. But Cecilia’s music brought down an angel from heaven.

In “Alexander’s Banquet” the music is presented with a huge range of influence. Timotheus draws his master Alexander into changing moods: pride, revelry in canals, martial zeal, mercy, love and religious devotion. The rhythms and sounds in the choruses of each stanza echo the protagonist’s changing emotions.

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