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Traditions Series: Name Days and Birthdays

This week, the Traditions Series explores the celebration of name days and birthdays. Also, a new release by harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr.

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The tradition of celebrating name days goes back to the middle ages when people of Catholic and Orthodox faiths were named after Saints or martyrs. A person celebrated their given name on the Feast Day of their namesake. The tradition was later adopted by some Protestant churches, especially in England and Scandinavia.

Today, the observation of name days can found all over Europe as well as Latin America. The once relatively small list of names has grown to accommodate the multitude and variety of names recognized from country to country. It is also worth noting that name days are no longer necessarily connected to Christian traditions.

The Esterházy dynasty is recognized today for many things, not least of which is its history reaching back to the middle ages. Yet they will always be remembered for their famous employee, Joseph Haydn, who worked for the Esterházy’s nearly five decades. During that time, his obligations required him to write music for family functions, including the celebration of names days.

The celebration of royal birthdays was taken very seriously in 17th Century England. Court composer Pelham Humfrey wrote several choral pieces in celebration of Charles II’s birthday, including odes and anthems.

George Frideric Handel was another composer who wrote pieces to celebrate British royal events, including the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne.

Our new release of the features harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr performing on an unusual instrument, a Lute-Harpsichord, which is similar to a typical harpsichord with the exception, among others, of having gut strings instead of metal ones.

Here’s a video of the aria “Eternal source of light divine” from Handel’s Birthday Ode for Queen Anne:


The music heard in this episode was performed by Ensemble Baroque de Nice, Ensemble 415, La Petite Bande, Collegium Musicum 90, The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, and The King’s Consort.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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