St. Cecilia Mass is the common name of a solemn mass in G major by Charles Gounod, composed in 1855 and scored for three soloists, mixed choir, orchestra and organ. The official name is Messe solennelle en l’honneur de Sainte-Cécile, in homage of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. The work was assigned CG 56 in the catalogue of the composer’s works.

The first work by Gounod performed in public was on 1 May 1841 a mass at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. The St. Cecilia Mass was his first major work. Parts of it, the Sanctus and Benedictus, were performed in London on 13 January 1851, together with works such as Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht. Gounod’s new music was acclaimed in the press, rendering details and culminating in an enthusiastic summary: “It is … the work of a thoroughly trained artist – and what is more, the poetry of a new poet.” The review was published in Paris and raised expectations. The premiere was performed on St. Cecilia’s day, 22 November 1855, in Saint-Eustache, Paris, where it was customary to celebrate the day by the performance of a new mass. The conductor was Théophile Tilmant.

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The featured image is “Saint Cecilia” (between 1620 and 1625) by Pietro da Cortona, and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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