Handwasher’s Newsletter 22nd November 2020


Today is St Cecilia’s Day. Cecilia, perhaps one of the most famous Roman martyrs of the early church, is remembered as the patron saint of music. Many fine pieces of music have been written in her honour, most notably works by Purcell, Handel, Haydn, Howells and Finzi.

However, the piece I wish to share with you today is Hymn to St Cecilia by Benjamin Britten who, incidentally, was also born on 22 November. This glorious piece is scored for unaccompanied voices and is a setting of words by W.H. Auden.

It is in three sections and, in this recording, you can follow the score as you listen. There are many technical hurdles for the singer and it requires much vocal agility at times. The quirky passionate unison choruses of ‘Blesses Cecilia’ between each section create a strong unifying effect, creating an essentially hymn-like effect.

In short, I believe this to be a miniature choral masterpiece. I hope you enjoy it!


A CONCERT IN COLOGNE remembered by Alison and Alan Norris:

Way back in September 2014, on one of our rail holidays, we stayed overnight in Cologne en route for Vienna. The hotel was near the station and cathedral but also round the corner from the Kölner Philharmonic concert hall .We found out that there was to be a concert on the 12th September the night we would be breaking our journey on the way back from Salzburg, staying at the same hotel. Unfortunately the Box Office was closed and would not open the next morning in time for us to try and get tickets before our train was due to depart to Vienna over the magnificent Hohenzollern railway bridge across the Rhine.  We explained our problem to the helpful hotel concierge who offered to try and buy some tickets for us. So, we gave him some euros and hoped for the best.

On the 12th September we were on our way back to Cologne with the train an hour late and not knowing if we had tickets or not. However, the concierge had been successful and after a very quick change and then a hurried meal (service was very slow) we just made it to the concert on time.

We were impressed before the concert even started as the hall, built in 1986, was designed in the form of a bowl (excellent for acoustics) with lots of wood panelling in a lovely golden colour and the lighting overhead was on rather industrial looking girders but like the rays of the  sun. Our very comfortable seats were on the first level and we had a perfect view of the stage.

The programme featured the Polish National Radio Orchestra conducted by Alexander Liebreich with a Polish pianist, Krystian Zimerman, performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No1 in D minor.

The concert began with a short (thankfully!) funereal piece “Musyka Zalobna” composed by one Witold Lutoslawski and then the grand piano rose slowly up from below the platform for the concerto; an amazing sight! After performing the concerto, the pianist received a bouquet and rapturous applause, returning to the platform several times but not offering an encore despite a standing ovation. Strangely, and we thought rather rudely as we doubt it would happen here, many seats were left empty after the interval so we could only suppose some people were only interested in hearing Krystian Zimerman play ( or else they had a train to catch?) Anyway, we happily listened to the orchestra playing Brahms Symphony No1 in C minor in the second half.

We thoroughly enjoyed the whole concert experience although the music was unfamiliar to us and were glad we did not have an early train to catch the next day as the concert finished at 10.30 p.m. We came away promising ourselves a weekend in Cologne with a concert another time, but we haven’t managed it yet!

Brahms (1833-1897)

Pictured at about the time he composed his 1st Piano Concerto

 Here, recorded in 1983 is Kristian Zimerman, aged 27, playing Brahms Piano Concertos nos. 1&2 with Leonard Bernstein, aged 65, conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker:


And now for something entirely different. Here’s a message from the Gloucestershire-based Carducci Quartet followed by a fun piece by Piazzola:


 AND FINALLY . . . You may remember we mentioned the annual competition held by the New York Times to see who can create the best original ‘lexophile’. Have a good groan at some more of this year’s submissions:

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine last week is now fully recovered.
 He had a photographic memory but it was never fully developed.
When she saw her first strands of grey hair she thought she’d dye.
 Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.
 I didn’t like my beard at first.  Then it grew on me.
 Did you hear about the crossed-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?
 When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.
 When chemists die, they barium.
 I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.
 I’m reading a book about anti-gravity.  I just can’t put it down.
 Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.