Music and St. Valentine

Who was St.Valentine?

There are two candidates for this saint. Both were early Christian martyrs. The first was a priest in Rome who cured a blind girl and then converted her family. The then emperor, Claudius II had him clubbed to death. In the 4th century the Pope built a church in his honour (more on the fabulous complex of San Valentino here).

The second one was a bishop from Umbria. A philosopher begged him to cure his son. The Bishop agreed, but on condition that the philosopher and his family converted to Christianity. The condition was accepted and the boy recovered. However when some high ranking members of Terni society started to convert following the miracle, local society was shaken, and Valentine was arrested and beheaded. (Rather gruesomely his relics can still be visited in a local church).

St. Valentine of Terni building his own basilica
A glamorised version of the Umbrian saint

St.Valentine’s day is now a day of romance but how did that come about? Well, it all began with birdwatching! Medieval bird watchers noticed that birds began to choose their mate around the middle of February and gave it an exact date – February 14th. Each day in medieval times (and indeed in more religious countries today) was given the name of a saint. For no particular reason February 14th was allocated to St. Valentine. So began the sending of Valentines. This was a tradition that was believed to have started with the first St. Valentine, that we mentioned, who inaugurated the tradition by sending a Valentine to his judge’s daughter, while imprisoned signed “From your Valentine”.

St.Valentine’s day became very popular in the 19th century; an era full of very sweet love songs. One that is still well known is Daisy Bell, a favourite of the music hall. Written by Harry Dacre, it was wildly popular and spawned a succession of songs based upon the original. (Anyone who came to the Daisy Belles’ concert last term will have heard a lot about this).

Here is one of the earliest recordings of the song:

Original 1894 recording.

Daisy had an important place in computer history, when in 1961 it became the first song to be sung using computer speech synthesis.

St.Valentine’s day is still popular in the 21st century, but musical tastes have changed. There are some pop songs that are just right for Valentine’s day, but there are some which are, well, erm… a bit slushy. Just think of Renee and Renato with Save your love for me or My heart will go on sung by Celine Dion. (Phenomenally successful the latter spent 22 weeks in the British charts, and won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy).

The ones I find most romantic are Can’t help falling in love, as recorded by Elvis (among many others – the original tune dates from 1784), and Roxette’s It must have been love.

For musical serenaders, such as restaurant violinists, St. Valentine’s Day is probably a peak day for enthusiastic customers, but whether you’re being serenaded, or just listening to some relaxing romantic music at home, do have a wonderful Valentine’s day.


Photo by How Far From Home on

About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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