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Hyperion Records

CDS44031/8 - Purcell: The Complete Odes & Welcome Songs
CDS44031/8
(Originally issued on 314,349,412, 456,587,598)

Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: November 1992
DISCID: 880E211C 16120814 B111D61D 5B0DFB17 B0106A1D 6B0FF618 6F0F7C18 500FE418
Total duration: 541 minutes 43 seconds

'A treasure house of shamefully neglected music. Over nine hours of wonderful invention … this major recording achievement must be an irresistible temptation' (BBC Music Magazine)

'By any yardstick these are life-enhancing works' (CDReview)

'They are all here, some of the most inventive, poetic and satisfying music I know of, performed with precision and verve. I refuse to loan these discs to friends. Highly, highly recommended. Full texts and explanatory notes' (Classical CD Scout)

'For a long overdue exploration of an important corpus of neglected music, Hyperion deserves the gratitude of all Purcellians' (Early Music)

The Complete Odes & Welcome Songs
Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, 1690
CD1
Symphony  [1'39]
Ode for St Cecilia's Day, 1683
Symphony  [1'32]
Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, 1689
Symphony  [3'39]
Ode for St Cecilia's Day, 1692
CD2
Symphony  [9'27]
Birthday Ode for the Duke of Gloucester, 1695
Overture  [4'27]
Welcome Song for Charles II, 1683
CD3
Symphony  [1'58]
Welcome Song (?on his birthday) for James II, 1687
Symphony  [3'11]
Chaconne  [3'34]
Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, 1693
Symphony  [1'37]
Welcome Song (?on his birthday) for James II, 1686
CD4
Symphony  [3'26]
Ode for performance at Mr Maidwell's School, 1689
Symphony  [3'10]
Wedding Ode for Prince George & Princess Anne,1683
Symphony  [2'36]
Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, 1691
CD5
Symphony  [2'24]
Centenary Ode for Trinity College Dublin, 1694
Symphony  [2'28]
Welcome Song for Charles II, 1682
Symphony  [2'27]
Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, 1692
CD6
Symphony  [3'41]
Ode for St Cecilia's Day, ?1685
Symphony  [2'55]
Ode for St Cecilia's Day, 1683
Symphony  [1'50]
Welcome Song for Charles II, 1684
Symphony  [3'36]
The Yorkshire Feast Song, 1690
CD7
Symphony  [2'24]
Symphony  [2'19]
Welcome Song for Charles II, 1681
Welcome Song for the Duke of York, 1682
Symphony  [2'47]
Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, 1694
CD8
Symphony  [3'36]
Welcome Song for Charles II, 1680
Welcome Song (?on his birthday) for James II, 1685
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
From between 1680 and 1695 twenty-four of Purcell’s Odes and Welcome Songs survive: four celebrate St Cecilia’s day, six are for the welcome of royalty, three are for the birthday of King James II, six celebrate the birthdays of Queen Mary from 1689 to 1694, and the remainder are ‘one-offs’ for a royal wedding, the Yorkshire Feast, the birthday of the Duke of Gloucester, the Centenary of Trinity College Dublin, and one for a performance ‘at Mr Maidwell’s School’. Of these twenty-four only a handful receive regular performances today, and the remainder, full of wonderfully inventive music, are usually and unjustly ignored. Besides its musical and historical importance as the first recording of all Purcell’s Odes and Welcome Songs, the eight discs in The King’s Consort’s series on Hyperion have an added interest for the scholar as the Odes cover almost all the period of Purcell’s activity as an established composer; his first Ode, for the welcome of Charles II, dates from 1680, and his last (that for the six-year-old Duke of Gloucester) was written just a few months before the composer’s untimely death in 1695.

Like the forty or so plays for which Purcell provided incidental music and songs, many of the libretti for the Odes are undistinguished. These texts accounted, in part at least, for the Odes’ neglect in the twentieth century. Purcell himself appears to have been less concerned by the texts he was given, consistently turning out music of astonishing imagination and high quality and frequently reserving his finest music for some of the least distinguished words. Seventeenth century audiences were perhaps not so preoccupied by texts as their modern counterparts—Purcell’s ravishing music must have been more than adequate compensation for poor poetry—and John Dryden, translating Virgil in 1697 backs this up: ‘The tune I still retain, but not the words.’ There was in any case a conventionally obsequious attitude to royalty, and Purcell’s music always wins, as the satirist Thomas Brown summed up:

For where the Author’s scanty words have failed,
Your happier Graces, Purcell, have prevailed.

Records of payments made to instrumentalists and singers for special occasions show the forces (and indeed the actual venues) utilized to have been surprisingly small. The ‘vingt-quatre violons’, modelled on the French version, were almost never at that strength by the 1690s, with the English musical establishment firmly in decline following the royal realization that music did not make money. All but the largest of Purcell’s Odes (notably Come ye sons of Art and Hail! bright Cecilia) seem to have been intended for performance by up to a dozen instrumentalists and a double quartet of singers, who between them covered all the solos and joined forces for the choruses. We believe therefore that the ensemble recorded here parallels the number of performers that took part in seventeenth-century performances.

Compact Disc 1
Arise, my muse dates from 1690, the second of six years in which Purcell was commissioned to write an Ode for the birthday of Queen Mary. That year saw a change in the orchestral scoring of Purcell’s Odes, with the addition of wind and brass instruments (other than the pair of recorders that had featured on various previous occasions) to the established string texture. For this work, with an unusually inspired libretto, Purcell added pairs of oboes, recorders and trumpets, and also a second viola to the string section, making possible sounds of great richness.

The overture, like so many of Purcell’s works, is in the French style, with a grand introduction (using the pairs of trumpets and oboes particularly effectively) followed by an imitative section in triple time. The solo alto’s first entry finds Purcell’s imagination stirred by D’Urfey’s text, as indeed it is again later on for the same voice at ‘See how the glitt’ring ruler of the day’ where, over an eight-bar ground bass in minuet style, the sun summons the planets to ‘Dance in a solemn ball’. Opportunities for pathetic texts are obviously limited in joyous Odes, but the section ‘But ah, I see Eusebia drown’d in tears’ enables Purcell to show genuine emotion, despite the fact that ‘Eusebia’ refers to the Anglican Church, regretting the fact that William III has to champion her cause in Ireland. Nonetheless, the piece ends in triumphant manner, with the text exhorting the illustrious Prince not to leave his work unfinished.

Welcome to all the pleasures is the earliest of the three Odes on disc 1, and the smallest in scale. An organization called ‘The Musical Society’ commissioned Purcell to set Christopher Fishburn’s libretto for their first celebration of St Cecilia’s Day in 1683. The event proved popular, for Purcell’s setting of the Ode was published the next year, and the Musical Society had to move to larger premises for its next celebration, although they did not call on Purcell again until 1692 when he produced Hail! bright Cecilia. For the 1683 occasion the youthful Purcell, only twenty-four, produced a work of great freshness, notable amongst many features for its wonderfully original string ritornelli with which he concludes many of the vocal sections. The work also produced one particularly successful alto solo over a ground bass, ‘Here the Deities approve’ (which moves into a most elegant string ritornello) published separately in 1689 under the title ‘A new Ground’ in the second part of Musick’s Hand-Maid. Fishburn’s text gave the composer an opportunity for gentle word-setting at ‘Beauty, thou scene of love’, and Purcell obliged with a movement given first to a solo tenor (with a delicious, and maybe slightly malicious, discord at the mention of the lute), and then taken up by the string ensemble. Unusually, Purcell employs a quiet ending to the work, with the texture of the last line of music ‘Iô Cecilia’ fading away to leave just the bass instruments and singers to conclude the Ode.

Now does the glorious day appear was Purcell’s first Ode written to celebrate the birthday of Queen Mary (on 30 April 1689), and so dates from exactly a year before Arise, my muse. Thomas Shadwell was the author of the text, which Purcell altered quite extensively, even to the extent of cutting the last fifteen lines. Purcell restricted the orchestral scoring to that of a string ensemble, but added a ‘third violin’ (actually a small viola) and thus provided himself with a five-part orchestral texture. This rich texture is immediately apparent in the French-style overture which at times has stylistic elements in common with the instrumental writing of Georg Muffat. The tenor solo ‘This does our fertile isle’ is set to what must be one of Purcell’s shortest ground basses, on just two notes, but one that is nonetheless effective, especially in its transformation into an orchestral ritornello.

But the highlight of the work, a movement which surely ranks as one of Purcell’s greatest, is the alto solo, set over a wistfully sighing four-bar dropping ground bass, ‘By beauteous softness’. One of Purcell’s most ravishing solos, especially with its quietly ecstatic vocal line at ‘She with such sweetness’, the voice’s final phrase is overlapped with an exquisite five-part string ritornello of quite melting beauty.

Compact Disc 2
In 1683 Purcell had been the first composer commissioned to write an Ode to celebrate St Cecilia’s Day by the newly formed ‘Musical Society’. On that occasion he produced Welcome to all the pleasures, notable not only for its great freshness but also for its wonderfully original string ritornelli. Nine years later the Society was flourishing and the ‘Gentleman Lovers of Musick’ once again turned to Purcell to ‘propagate the advancement of that divine Science’. As Motteux wrote, ‘A splendid entertainment is provided, and before it is always a performance of Music by the best voices and hands in town’. With Hail! bright Cecilia Purcell excelled himself.

Brady’s poem was derived directly from Dryden’s Ode of 1687, which was the first to call for obbligato instruments, and also the first to suggest that Cecilia invented, rather than simply played, the organ. Most of Purcell’s Odes were written for the relatively small forces available at Court, but on this occasion he was given the opportunity to write for a large group of performers. Purcell chose to mix large, contrapuntal choruses with a sequence of airs for soloists and obbligato instruments. The canzona of the Symphony contains a fugue on two subjects, and is thematically linked to the fugato theme which closes the work in ingenious double augmentation. At the centre of the Ode comes the powerful chorus ‘Soul of the World!’ closing in ‘perfect Harmony’. Between this and the large-scale choruses that frame either end of the Ode come an inspired selection of airs, based around an extraordinary collection of compositional devices. ‘Hark, each Tree’ is a sarabande on a ground, whilst ‘Thou tun’st this World’ is set as a minuet; ‘In vain the Am’rous Flute’ is set to a passacaglia bass, and ‘Wond’rous Machine!’ splendidly depicts an inexorably chugging machine with its ground bass and wailing oboes. Perhaps the most remarkable solo movement is ‘’Tis Nature’s Voice’ where the recitative is so heavily ornamented as to make it melismatic arioso. (The score writes ‘Mr Pate’ against this number, but some commentators have misread Motteux’s report of this movement, ‘which was sung with incredible graces by Mr. Henry Purcell himself’, to suggest that Purcell was the singer, rather than the writer, of those ‘incredible graces’.) With a text full of references to music and musical instruments, the work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments. Everywhere we find writing of great originality, word-setting of the highest calibre, and music of startling individuality.

Purcell’s last Occasional Ode, Who can from joy refrain?, was written for the birthday, on 24 July 1695, of the six year-old Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, son of Princess (later Queen) Anne. The Queen had eighteen children, all of whom died in infancy except Prince William; his life reached only to the age of eleven. The performance took place in Richmond House, Kew, and was given by a select number of the royal musicians. The Ode contained an important trumpet part, whose warlike tones particularly appealed to the young Prince, and this part was played by the trumpet virtuoso John Shore. The work is far more typical of the majority of Purcell’s two dozen Odes than Hail! bright Cecilia, being written for a relatively small group of performers. Four of the singers are named on the autograph manuscript, and they seem to have taken both the solos and the choruses. The instruments all appear to have been played one to a part. The inclusion of woodwind instruments (other than recorders) was a fairly recent development for Purcell, and in this case his clearly indicated writing for a small oboe band (two oboes, tenor oboe and the recently introduced bassoon) was particularly effective.

‘The Duke of Gloucester’s Birthday Ode’ shows so much that is wonderful in Purcell’s writing: the Overture contains a marvellously rich slow section before the canzona returns, and the solo movements all feature music of the highest order. ‘A Prince of glorious race descended’ in particular demonstrates one of Purcell’s familiar techniques, and one that he used to great effect in so many of his Odes. The movement begins with a ground bass and solo voice, and then, at the mid-point, is transformed into a ravishing four-part string ritornello. The last movement too is a compositional tour de force: Purcell’s extraordinary Chaconne alternates and mixes voices and instruments in a wonderful variety of textures and rhythms.

Compact Disc 3
Fly, bold rebellion was one of Purcell’s early Welcome Songs, composed for Charles II in 1683. The manuscript gives no indication of the date of the first performance, but it seems evident from the anonymous author of the words that it was written shortly after the discovery of the Rye House Plot, which took place in June 1683. The Ode thus would seem likely to have been performed to celebrate Charles’s return from Windsor to Whitehall at the end of June, or perhaps later in the year on his return to London from Winchester (25 September) or Newmarket (20 October). After the splendid two-part Symphony, the Ode contains the already established selection of choruses, trios and solos, interspersed with Purcell’s deliciously scored string ritornelli. One movement in particular stands out: Purcell had an enormous affinity with the alto voice, giving it many of his finest movements, and it is once again for this voice that he set ‘Be welcome then, great Sir’. Over a three-bar walking ground bass the soloist winds an entrancing melody which then develops into a ravishing string ritornello. Elsewhere too there is enchanting string writing: the ritornelli to ‘Rivers from their channels turned’, ‘But Kings, like the sun’ and ‘But Heaven has now dispelled’ are exquisitely crafted. In the concluding chorus ‘Welcome to all those wishes fulfilled’ we find imitative entries in seven parts alternating in real and inverted counterpoint: a final example of Purcell’s extraordinary creative mind.

Sound the trumpet, beat the drum was the last of the three Odes that Purcell wrote between 1685 and 1687 to celebrate the birthday of James II. Queen Mary had been in Bath from 16 August to 6 October, but on 11 October she and King James returned from Windsor to Whitehall, ready for the King’s birthday celebrations on 14 October. The diarist Narcissus Luttrell recorded in his diary that the celebrations appeared to have been on a smaller scale than in previous years, there being ‘no bonefires, being so particularly commanded’. The Ode is contained in a surprisingly large number of sources: one later version (the Kent manuscript), produced after Purcell’s death, used a totally new text and adds trumpets and timpani to the orchestra. However, Purcell’s 1687 version is scored only for strings and, with the names of many of the singers recorded in the manuscripts, we can see that the first performance was a fairly small-scale affair. After a splendid two-movement overture, Mr Abell, the alto, sets the Ode off in suitably military style, punctuated by interjections from both the bass and ritornelli from the strings. By 1687 Purcell was beginning to cut down on the instrumental ritornelli that concluded so many movements in the early Odes, tending instead to move straight into a contrasting vocal section, but the alto duet ‘Let Caesar and Urania live’, set over a two-bar ground bass, is transformed into glorious four-part string writing. The bass, Mr Bowman, must have been an extraordinary singer, for in the solo ‘While Caesar like the morning star’ Purcell utilizes a range from high E down to bottom D. Equally extraordinary is the Chaconne which Purcell includes at the mid-point of the Ode: this is as fine an example of the form as he ever wrote, using a multitude of compositional devices and including a marvellous minor section. Purcell must have been especially pleased with this movement for, four years later, he re-used it in King Arthur.

With Celebrate this Festival we come to the fifth of six Odes Purcell wrote to celebrate the birthday of Queen Mary in successive years from 1689. By 1693 the scoring of the orchestra had been increased to include oboes, recorders and a trumpet and, although the basic plan remained the same, the size and scale of the Odes and their dramatic content had increased. The choruses, often developing out of a series of solo sections, had increased in length and, in the interests of keeping pace with the libretto, instrumental ritornelli had all but vanished, with sections running instead straight into a contrasting vocal movement. Purcell worked closely with the famous trumpeter John Shore, and possible now were movements with virtuoso obbligato trumpet parts, of which the suitably military ‘While, for a righteous cause’ is a splendid example. Similarly, the presence of both oboes and recorders in the orchestra (oboists usually doubled on recorders) enabled delicately scored movements such as ‘Return, fond Muse’ (scored for two recorders and viola). The Symphony, much grander in scale than those of ten years before, was on this occasion copied directly from Hail! bright Cecilia, performed just six months previously, and Purcell was obviously blessed with two fine sopranos, whose opening duet sets a suitably stately tone for the Ode. But there is also writing of great beauty too, in particular the quietly ecstatic setting for solo alto, over a ground bass, of ‘Crown the altar’. Effective, too, is the wonderful seven-part vocal texture at ‘Repeat Maria’s name’ which throws the Queen’s name between voices and instruments before a minuet closes the work in elegant vein.

Compact Disc 4
Ye tuneful Muses was written in 1686, most probably to celebrate the return of the Court from Windsor to Whitehall on 1 October. As the birthday of King James II fell on 14 October some scholars have suggested it is possible that the celebrations were combined, for the diarist Luttrell recorded that the birthday was ‘observed with great solemnity … the day concluded with ringing of bells, bonefires and a ball at Court’, but there is little in the text to suggest this was so. That anonymous author did however provide Purcell with a good libretto, full of variety and vivid material for compositional inspiration, especially in its references to music and musical instruments and, as ever, Purcell did not fail.

The fine opening Symphony is in the conventional two-section French style (which had itself originated in Italy), with the opening dotted section followed by a faster imitative triple-time movement. Two basses follow this with a rich duet, full of word-painting, linked to the first chorus by a short string ritornello. The section ‘Be lively then and gay’ is ingeniously based on the popular song ‘Hey boys, up go we’, and Purcell used its tune (to be found in The Dancing Master, 16th edition, 1686) first as the bass to the tenor solo, then as a counterpoint in the violins to the chorus, and then again as the bass to the dancing string ritornello which concludes the section. It is not known who was the bass singer for ‘In his just praise’ but he must have had a remarkable range of over two octaves which Purcell exploited to the full. The composer’s good humour continues, for in the next section the upper strings furiously play on all four of their open strings in response to the chorus’s exhortation ‘Tune all your strings’. The musical allegories continue in ‘From the rattling of drums and the trumpet’s loud sounds’ before we enter into a more gentle section ‘To music’s softer but yet kind and pleasing melody’ which is accompanied by two recorders. This leads into the jewel of the Ode ‘With him he brings’, sung at the first performance by the famous countertenor (and fine composer) William Turner. Over a wonderful four-bar ground bass the Queen’s beauty is praised, with especially delightful writing for ‘There beauty its whole artillery tries’, before the ground bass modulates up a fifth, and Purcell provides (as he does in so many of the Odes) a delicious string ritornello. The soprano duet ‘Happy in a mutual love’ which follows is delightful too, and the work ends with a lilting solo and elegantly harmonized chorus ‘Whilst in music and verse’.

In 1689 Purcell was commissioned to write works by two London schools. The more famous of these commissions resulted in Dido and Aeneas, first performed at Josias Priest’s School for Young Ladies in Chelsea, but at around the same time (perhaps keeping up with his competitors) the schoolteacher Mr Maidwell commissioned the music to the Ode Celestial music did the gods inspire, which was performed at his school on 5 August. The librettist is unknown, simply credited in the score with ‘the words by one of his scholars’, but certainly appears to have had a firm grounding in Greek and Roman mythology—and produced verse that was better than some written by more distinguished names of the time.

Purcell took the Symphony for the Ode directly from his 1685 coronation anthem My heart is inditing: such re-use of material was comparatively rare with Purcell and suggests that there may have been some haste in the composition. The solo bass at ‘Celestial music’ is accompanied by imitative strings who lead into a chorus which blossoms wonderfully at ‘Whom sacred music calls her Deity’. ‘Her charming strains’ is evocatively scored over a four-bar ground bass for the other-worldly combination of countertenor and two recorders and the instruments are provided with an elegant playout. ‘Thus Virgil’s Genius’ is also set on a ground and is given to a soprano soloist, followed by the duet ‘Whilst music did improve Amphion’s song’ and a string ritornello, both based on the rhythmic motif of a Scotch snap. ‘When Orpheus sang’ is a minature masterpiece in which, once again, the theme of music inspires Purcell to produce a movement of startling originality: the countertenor weaves a florid line over a hypnotic chordal accompaniment illustrating Orpheus and his lyre subduing nature and even cruel Pluto. Closing the work is a trio (with suitably rich harmony for the word ‘ravish’d’) which is then taken up by the chorus and enlarged with virtuoso breaks for the first violin.

On 28 July 1683 the Bishop of London presided at St James’ in the marriage of Prince George of Denmark to King Charles’s niece, ‘Lady Ann’ (later Queen Anne). On 19 July Luttrell had recorded that ‘in the afternoon, Prince George, brother to the King of Denmark, arrived at Whitehall, and was kindly received by their majesties and their royal highnesses, being come to make his address to the Lady Ann, daughter to his royal highness’. We do not know for certain if Purcell’s Ode From hardy Climes and dangerous Toils of War was performed to the newly wed couple at their marriage celebrations, but the work is one of his finest early Odes, full of wonderful string ritornelli and fine vocal writing.

The Symphony is one of the composer’s best, simultaneously joyful yet wistful in the way that only Purcell’s early string writing can be, wonderfully inventive and delightfully unpredictable. Once again a solo bass introduces the voices with an extended solo covering a wide vocal range before the chorus enter. This chorus leads into the first of several splendid string ritornelli. Next a solo tenor has some glorious writing for ‘As Fame, great Sir’, especially at ‘The wonders you have since possessed’, and this is followed by an equally fine duet for sopranos. The solo bass introduces the chorus ‘Wake then, my Muse’ which is concluded by another ravishing string ritornello. However the best is yet to come. Here it is the tenor who is presented with one of Purcell’s finest and most inspired ground bass solos in ‘The Sparrow and the gentle Dove’: the singer’s lyrical melody is capped by a string ritornello of quite melting beauty. A short trio and another wistful ritornello lead into the final chorus ‘Hence without Scheme’ where the soprano soloist alternates with the full ensemble.

Compact Disc 5
Purcell and the majority of the British public were genuinely fond of Queen Mary, who with William replaced King James on the throne when he fled to the continent. London musicians breathed a collective sigh of relief at the Glorious Revolution and Purcell composed six of his finest Odes to honour his new Queen’s birthday.

For his 1691 offering to the Queen Purcell was on sparkling form, with recent successes on the stage leading to a more expansive style of composition. Besides the usual strings, Welcome, welcome, glorious morn also required pairs of oboes and trumpets whose presence is felt right from the extrovert start of the Symphony, where the trumpets’ theme is thrown between the pairs of instruments before all join together, first in busy semiquavers, and then in the rich cadential figuration. The imitative section that follows continues in the same vein, with trumpets, oboes and strings answering each other. In the later Odes there is a more integrated style of composition, with sections flowing into each other with more freedom, and the opening demonstrates this as the tenor soloist, oboes and finally the chorus combine together. The duet ‘At thy return the joyful Earth’ leads into a glorious instrumental ritornello before the chorus returns, this time with the addition of two small duets. For the duet ‘Welcome as when three happy Kingdoms strove’ the mood changes to a more intimate style, but Purcell engineers an effective build-up to ‘the loudest song of Fame’. The tenor solo ‘The mighty goddess’ is an extraordinary piece of writing, with the soloist’s florid line contrasting with the insistent chordal string accompaniment. In the next section ‘Full of Wonder and Delight’ Purcell combines three elements, with a trio, a joyful chorus and finally the full instrumental ensemble joining in praise at the infant Queen Mary’s birth. ‘And lo! a sacred Fury’ is a compositional tour de force, with a dramatic recitative-style opening leading into the extended section ‘To lofty strains’, set over a remarkable dotted six-bar ground bass. The soloist’s line is finally taken up by the full vocal ensemble. Another short passage of semi-recitative, ‘My Pray’rs are heard’, this time for soprano, leads into a ground bass (treated freely in view of its brevity) and finally a chorus. The short bass duet ‘He to the Field by Honour call’d shall go’ and elegant tenor solo ‘Whilst undisturb’d his happy Consort reigns’ take us into the final solo and chorus. First a solo tenor and the two trumpets announce the theme, and then in augmented counterpoint the entire ensemble ends the work in triumphant vein.

On 9 January 1694 Trinity College Dublin celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its foundation by Queen Elizabeth with a service at Christ Church Cathedral ‘sung by the principal Gentlemen of the Kingdom’ which was accompanied by orations in Latin and ‘an Ode by Mr Tate’ (the Poet Laureate) ‘who was bred up in this College’. For Great Parent, Hail to Thee! the librettist of Dido and Aeneas produced one of his weaker offerings, but Purcell still produced extraordinarily fine music. The Symphony is suitably celebratory, with the imitative second section neatly crafted, and the opening chorus full of variety and vigour. The alto solo ‘Another Century commencing’ finds Purcell writing gloriously lyrical music for his favourite voice, and the duet that follows (‘After War’s Alarms repeated’) contains effective word-painting in the echoes of the word ‘repeated’. The bass solo ‘Awful Matron’ is an outstanding movement which shows marvellous control of the solo line. The tenor solo and chorus ‘She was the first who did inspire’ also makes charming use of echoes, the duet ‘Succeeding Princes’ is full of lovely harmonies and the chorus ‘But chiefly Recommend to Fame’ opens out gloriously at its end. The soprano solo ‘Thy Royal Patron sung’ (one of the few extended arias for soprano in the Odes) is another triumph of Purcell’s fertile imagination, effectively written with the two recorders bringing added pathos, and the closing chorus is liltingly joyous.

The return of Charles II and the Duke of York from their usual Autumn visit to Newmarket was celebrated on 21 October 1682, but the diarist Luttrell indicated that the event was rather more muted than on previous occasions (probably due to the royal finances being in dire straits). Earlier in the year Purcell had been appointed one of the three organists at the Chapel Royal, an appointment which enabled him and his wife to move into grander quarters in Great St Ann’s Lane, and the commission to set The summer’s absence unconcerned we bear to music was another mark of official favour.

Although the Ode was only the fourth that Purcell had composed, the opening two-section Symphony is, beneath its veneer of joyfulness, one of his most wistful, leading directly into a virtuoso bass solo which again covers a range of over two octaves. A short trio leads into a chorus and the first of the string ritornelli which are such a strong feature of the early Odes. A four-note ground bass forms the basis for the alto solo ‘And when late from your throne’ which leads into its melancholy ritornello via a brief chorus. After a series of shorter movements comes another of Purcell’s gems, the alto solo ‘These had by their ill usage drove’, set over a four-bar modulating ground bass, and leading into the last (and finest) ritornello of the work. A solo tenor opens the final chorus, whose reflective ending proved to be prophetic: though the text wishes the monarch a long life, the hope was to prove vain less than three years later when King Charles’s reign came to a sudden end. Though he had nearly bankrupted the country, he had done much for music and musicians.

Compact Disc 6
Purcell’s fourth birthday Ode for the Queen, Love’s goddess sure was blind, was the most intimate of the six, scored for just strings and a pair of recorders. The two-section Symphony is one of Purcell’s finest, especially richly scored. The noble, yet wistful, first part is dominated by a six-note falling scale and a ravishing melody (which comes only once in the violins, but three times in the viola), all wrapped in glorious harmony. The triple-time second section at first glance appears lighter in character, but (as with so much of Purcell’s music, which needs to be played to discover its true riches) in practice still has an underlying current of melancholy, heightened at the end as the opening mood returns. Charles Sedley’s opening words are given to the countertenor soloist, leading into an elegant, extended string ritornello. The off-beat accompaniment to the bass solo ‘Those eyes, that form, that lofty mien’ gives the music an added urgency, and a contrast to the gently undulating duet that follows, ‘Sweetness of Nature’. Here Purcell pairs alto and high tenor with the pastoral sound of two recorders (the tessitura of the recorder writing necessitates the use of the larger voice flute). The soprano soloist begins the charming minuet ‘Long may she reign’, which is repeated by the full ensemble.

The music historian Sir John Hawkins tells a story concerning the next movement ‘May her blest example chase’ which, whether true or not, gives an idea of the problems that working for royalty sometimes brought. Commanding musical entertainment one day, the Queen sent for the soprano Mrs Hunt, the famous bass John Gostling and Purcell. They performed several of Purcell’s songs, but the Queen was clearly not satisfied with such sophisticated music, eventually requesting that Mrs Hunt sing the Scots ballad ‘Cold and Raw’. Mrs Hunt complied, and accompanied herself on the lute. Purcell meantime sat at the harpsichord ‘unemployed and not a little nettled at the Queen’s preference for a vulgar ballad to his music’. When he came to write Love’s goddess sure Purcell must have remembered the Queen’s request, and used the ballad tune as the bass line to ‘May her blest example chase’. Harmonically it is not a particularly good line, but Purcell managed, with a struggle, to force a melody over it: the rustic string ritornello works rather well. No such struggle accompanied the duet that follows, ‘Many such days’ which, set over a two-bar ground bass, is a compositional tour de force. The voices enter across the ground, rather than at the start of a repeat, and Purcell brilliantly manages contrasts and modulations within the movement without having to interrupt the bass’s inexorable progress. Only at the concluding string ritornello does he allow the ground to wander into the other string parts, switching it rapidly through all the lines. The chorus ‘May she to Heaven late return’ too is another example of Purcell’s mastery of counterpoint, with subject and counter-subject treated with great imagination. The quartet that follows, ‘As much as we below’, is full of the delicious discords that make Purcell’s pathos-laden moments so telling, especially with the descending chromaticism of the word ‘mourn’ and the Ode ends reflectively.

Two of Purcell’s Odes, both written to celebrate St Cecilia’s Day, are for reduced forces. Raise, raise the voice and Laudate Ceciliam are both scored for three voices (rather than the usual four), with an accompaniment of just two violins and basso continuo. We are not sure in which year Raise, raise the voice was first performed, though its similarity in scoring with Laudate Ceciliam (which is dated 1683) has given some commentators grounds for believing the two Odes may have been performed in the same concert. But 1683 also saw the first performance of the St Cecilia’s Day Ode Welcome to all the pleasures, so it would seem unlikely that Purcell would have written three Odes for the same day in the same year. Our only terminus ante quem comes with the publication of the Ritornello Minuet in the second part of Musick’s Hand-Maid of 1689, when it was arranged for harpsichord, but the Ode clearly dates from well before that time.

Purcell’s Symphony to Raise, raise the voice is as adventurous and ingenious as ever, creating a rich texture from what is only a trio sonata grouping. After the stately first section comes a busy contrapuntal movement, full of angular writing and close imitation, and leading straight into the anonymous author’s Ode. Word-painting is immediately to the fore, with the phrase rising as the words suggest (‘Raise, raise the voice’), and a reference to the lute’s ‘softest notes’ giving immediate inspiration to the continuo players. The full ensemble joins together in an unusual Purcellian texture: with no countertenors and no viola, the usual centre to the texture needs replacing, so Purcell keeps the tenor parts high, and provides the first violin with a descant above the sopranos before an instrumental ritornello rounds off the movement. A short soprano solo leads into the chorus ‘Crown the day with Harmony’, which is rounded off by the pretty Ritornello Minuet.

The centrepiece of the Ode is another remarkable ground bass, a jaunty setting of ‘Mark how readily each pliant string’, where Purcell’s insistently cheerful four-bar bass forms the background for a splendidly characterful soprano solo. The ‘pliant string’ prepares itself to a jazzy rhythm, the offering ‘of some gentle sound’ slinkily rises up the chromatic scale and, invited by the words ‘Then altogether’, first the two violins join the texture ‘in harmonious lays’, and then the whole chamber ensemble—with a wonderful line for the tenors. The best is yet to come, for the two violins’ closing ritornello caps the movement with some of the most extraordinary instrumental writing in Purcell’s entire output of Odes. Here is music of astonishing originality, breathtaking in seemingly breaking all the rules of harmony and counterpoint and still somehow ending in the right key!

Laudate Ceciliam, the second of Purcell’s smaller-scale Odes to celebrate Saint Cecilia’s Day, dates from 1683, the same year as Welcome to all the pleasures. Like Raise, raise the voice the scoring is for just three voices, accompanied by two violins and basso continuo, but this time the text is in Latin: as well as being his shortest Ode, Laudate Ceciliam is Purcell’s only Ode to be set in a language other than English. The vocal writing seems clearly to be for solo voices throughout, and the influence of the verse anthem is apparent.

The Symphony is in the usual two parts, the first stately and dotted, the second a lighter, triple-time movement which leads straight into the first vocal entries. At ‘Modulemini psalmum novum’ (‘O sing a new psalm’) Purcell introduces his own new theme, more serious and recitativo-like in character, which is passed between each of the voices before a short violin ritornello ends the section. The bass briefly introduces new material at ‘Quia preceptum’ but the opening vocal material is reintroduced, followed by a complete repeat of the Symphony. The heart of the Ode is the touching duet for alto and tenor ‘Dicite Virgini’: the phrase ‘O beata Cecilia’ (‘O blessed Cecilia’) is set with especial affection, and ‘respice nos’ (‘look on us’) draws eloquent harmony from the composer. With the return of the trio at ‘Adeste caelites’ the supplicatory mood is displaced before the opening material returns: the singers praise the patron Saint of music ‘with voice and organ’ for the last time and Purcell’s smallest Ode draws to its conclusion.

From those serene and rapturous joys, Purcell’s fifth Welcome Song for his employer, Charles II, was written to celebrate the King’s return to Whitehall in September 1684. Normally the King would have returned direct from Windsor, but this year some careful political manoeuvering had proved necessary, and Charles, together with the Duke of York, had moved from Windsor to Winchester at the end of August, travelling back to Whitehall in time for the celebrations of 25 September. Thomas Flatman’s Ode makes elegantly veiled (and, of course, flattering) references to the King’s diplomatic summer progress which successfully (and peacefully) ended his struggle to control England. For the first time the royal purse strings were not stretched to breaking point, and payments to royal musicians, Purcell amongst them, were up-to-date. England, albeit briefly, really was at peace with itself, and Purcell’s reflective setting mirrored this mood.

The opening of yet another splendid Symphony immediately finds this mood in Purcell’s characteristically rich string sonorities, countered by a busy and characterful second section. The tranquil opening verse of the Ode, extolling the virtues of a quiet country life, is set for solo countertenor (probably sung in 1684 by the famous William Turner), with the ‘rapturous joys’ given a particularly expressive melisma, and then transformed and extended into a glorious string ritornello, full of Purcell’s inimitable harmonic and melodic twists. A bass spiritedly announces the arrival of ‘th’ indulgent Prince’, accompanied by two violins, and is joined in his welcome by the full ensemble in elegantly swinging triple time. Two sopranos prettily tell of the King’s peaceful conquest of his subjects before we are treated to another fine string ritornello, this time buoyant and energetic. ‘Welcome as soft refreshing show’rs’ gives another demonstration of the astonishing vocal range of John Gostling, Charles II’s favourite bass singer, and the chorus repeat their swinging chorus ‘Welcome home’.

Once again it is a ground bass which produces the most remarkable movement of the Ode, ‘Welcome, more welcome does he come’. The ground is unusual for Purcell in that it has rests at both the beginning and end, allowing him the option either of overlapping this hole by the voice, which he does on most occasions, or inserting a most effective pause. Combined with the ravishing string ritornello that follows the tenor solo, we have here yet another example of the genius of Purcell. The duet that follows, ‘Nor does the Sun more comfort bring’, is enrichened by the addition of a violin part, effectively creating a third voice, and by the short but sumptuous string playout. The final movement is a rumbustious one, ‘With trumpets and shouts’, which alternates between strings and a solo tenor before it is finally taken up by the whole ensemble. On this occasion, however, the jollity was short-lived. Within a few months, as the diarist John Evelyn noted, the ‘inexpressible luxury, and profaneness, gaming and all dissoluteness’ that had marked Charles’s reign came to a sudden end on 2 February 1685, with a fit of apoplexy. Four days later ‘was all in the dust’ and a less dissolute, but far less popular, monarch suddenly became Purcell’s new employer.

Compact Disc 7
In the seventeenth century, it was a regular custom that natives of certain counties and towns and scholars of various schools would meet annually in London. They would attend a church service, and afterwards adjourn for a celebratory feast. Such meetings did not only promote conviviality but also often had benevolent aims—organizations such as the Sons of the Clergy and the Charterhouse Scholars had a strongly charitable base behind their annual gatherings. The Gazette dated Monday 20 January 1689 (using the old style of dating when the year numbering changed on 25 March) contained the following advertisement: ‘The Yorkshire Feast will be held on Friday the 14th February next, at Merchant-Taylors-hall; and a sermon will be at Bow-Church that Morning for the Society.’ In the event, the celebration was postponed, for James II had fled the kingdom just before Christmas and the crown was in abeyance until 13 February, as a supplementary advertisement in the Gazette on 6 February explained: ‘The Yorkshire Feast which was intended to be kept on the 14th Instant, is (by Reason several of the Stewards were members of the late Parliament, who are now obliged to go to the country) put off to the 27th of March next.’

With William and Mary duly crowned there was more topical material available than usual, and the Stewards commissioned the best available author and composer to celebrate in ‘a very splendid Entertainment of all sorts of Vocal and Instrumental Musick’. Thomas D’Urfey included the libretto in his Pills to Purge Melancholy, describing it as ‘An Ode on the Assembly of the Nobility and Gentry of the City and County of York, at the Anniversary Feast, March the 27th, 1690. Set to Musick by Mr. Henry Purcell. One of the finest Compositions he ever made, and cost £100 the performing’. Of old, when heroes thought it base was ostensibly a history of York from Roman times onwards, but it also contained allegories of the Glorious Revolution. Despite D’Urfey’s sometimes contrived text, Purcell responds with music of high quality.

The two-section Symphony is an extensive one, with trumpets, oboes and strings provided with a splendid canzona-like opening, arpeggios rising and falling around Purcell’s lively theme. The second section is a lilting triple-time movement, closely imitative and suitably celebratory. A solo bass, complete with graphic word-painting, begins the story with the Romans (the ‘martial race’) invading Britain, although the audience could hardly have missed the implied reference to the recent replacement of James II by William, and is followed by a short instrumental ritornello and duet for high tenor and bass ‘Brigantium, honour’d with a race divine’. Brigantium was the region which effectively made up the county of Yorkshire, and the reference to Constantine was to the Roman leader whose successful military campaign in Britain led him to be proclaimed emperor by his troops in Eboracum (now the city of York). Once again, Purcell’s treatment of the words, especially the reference to the ‘blooming glories’ is particularly effective and affectionate. Two recorders introduce ‘The bashful Thames’, delightfully running past her ‘puny town’ (London) with glorious harmony at moments such as ‘Augusta [London] then did drooping lie’. Purcell then translates the solo into a most touching chorus, adding beautifully crafted inner parts. Next the story moves on to the Wars of the Roses, fought between the Houses of York and Lancaster between 1455 and 1485. Purcell’s gentle setting of ‘The pale and the purple rose’ is introduced by an extended instrumental ritornello. The bass line ingeniously avoids the first beat of the bar, and over it the oboes and upper strings play a melody of great elegance. When the alto soloist enters with his expressive melody, the off-beat accompaniment is taken up by the all the strings, a device which gives a poignant ending. The following duet ‘And in each track of glory since’ appears to have been especially popular, and was published separately. As in ‘The bashful Thames’ Purcell follows the duet with a choral version, harmonizing the melody with the addition of delicious alto and tenor parts.

The opening joyful Symphony is repeated in full and leads directly into the tenor duet ‘And now when the renown’d Nassau’. This section is a direct reference to William III, one of whose seats was as Count of Nassau in Rheinland-Pfalz. Over a tightly turning bass line the two soloists and two solo trumpets weave a fine movement, full of subtle turns and interesting contrasts. Purcell’s bass duet ‘They did no storms, nor threat’nings fear’ is a splendid, blustering example: the humour in the setting of ‘the grumbling air’ is particularly notable. Next comes one of the most extraordinary movements of the Ode, the tenor solo ‘So when the glitt’ring Queen of Night’. Purcell uses a hypnotic ground bass, just five notes long, also utilized in the main melody. D’Urfey’s text here is inspired, and Purcell’s reaction to it is breathtaking in its calm, nocturnal poise and its ravishing harmonies. The second section in particular is glorious with its pictorialization of ‘the globe that swells’ and the shaft of soft light that Purcell brings by the brief use of the major key at the word ‘ray’. The chorus that follows finds Purcell with a subject that rarely fails to inspire him—that of music. He sets ‘Let music join’ in rich six-part counterpoint, at the midpoint additionally putting the melody into the bass in ingenious double augmentation before a dancing theme brings the movement to a surprisingly speedy ending. The movement ‘Sound trumpets, sound!’ is less subtle, and clearly was intended to set Yorkshire toes tapping with its rollicking rhythm and easily remembered tune, repeated after the soloist by strings and trumpets with the addition of a throbbing bass line, and then, following Purcell’s instructions, repeated ‘over again with all the instruments’. For the last movement Purcell goes into his most ceremonial mode, with a mighty bass solo introducing block chords from the chorus and orchestral fanfares.

Purcell’s sole Ode dating from 1681, Swifter, Isis, swifter flow, was only the second he wrote, and seems to have been composed to celebrate the return to London of Charles II from his annual autumn visit to Newmarket. Luttrell records in his diary that on 12 October 1681 ‘at night, for joy, were ringing of bells and bonefires in severall places’ and the anonymous author, clearly familiar with such royal homecomings, makes direct references to these celebrations. Purcell too appears to have been especially inspired by the sound of bells ringing. Indeed, after the fine opening of the Symphony, characterized by falling chromatic harmonies, it is a downward six-note motif which permeates through the second, triple-time section and into the tenor’s opening phrase. (The river Thames flowing through the city of Oxford is called the Isis, reverting back to its former name as it widens towards London, where it ran past the King’s palace.) Throughout this opening, Purcell’s skill at writing for strings is particularly effective, as indeed it is in all the early church music which was already flowing copiously from his pen. The solo bass is accompanied at ‘Land him safely on her shore’ by two recorders, often associated by Purcell with plaintive or amorous themes. Purcell’s splendid string writing introduces the tenor solo ‘Hark, hark! just now my listening ears’, written over an unusually jolly four-bar ground bass. His melodic writing is its usual graceful self, with an especially attractive setting of ‘Oh, how she does my eyes delight’ before the ringing of bells returns, and the movement ends with a tantalizingly short instrumental playout: its eight bars require not only strings but also a solo oboe, which appears nowhere else in the Ode.

Next a trio and chorus alternate phrases with ‘Welcome, dread Sir, to town’ (with London referred to as ‘Augusta’) before the bass has a fine recitativo section ‘But with as great devotion meet’, full of graphic word-painting. The lilting ‘Your Augusta he charms’ is introduced by a solo tenor and taken up by the chorus, with a delightfully unexpected tonal shift at ‘Who tells her the King keeps his court here tonight’ before another short instrumental ritornello rounds off the movement. The duet ‘The King whose presence’ is underpinned by a gently running ground bass and touching suspensions, leading to the final chorus. Here the principal manuscript source is incomplete, with over half of the inner parts missing: for this recording these have been completed by Robert King. The phrase ‘May no harsher sounds e’er invade your blest ears’ is particularly notable, with its intense chromaticism prefiguring some of the finest moments of Dido and Aeneas.

Purcell’s third Ode, What shall be done in behalf of the man?, was written to celebrate the return of the Duke of York (later James II) from Scotland, where he had been High Commissioner since 1679. We are not certain exactly when the Ode was performed, but we know that James left Leith on 4 March 1682 and arrived at Yarmouth six days later, joining the Court at Newmarket on 11 March. Some writers have suggested that Purcell’s Ode was performed then, but it seems more likely that it was written to celebrate a later return. After a further visit to Scotland the Duke returned to London on 27 May: Luttrell records that ‘at night there were ringing of bells, and bonefires in severall places, and other publick expressions of joy’.

Once again Purcell produces a fine Symphony, with its stately, dotted opening nonetheless leaving room for the wistful minor harmonies which make Purcell’s string writing so appealing. The busily contrapuntal second section is equally imaginative and leads straight into the bass’s opening solo, accompanied by two recorders, praising the Duke’s success in defeating the rebellion of Monmouth. A trio continues the praise of James, reminding the listeners that he is next in line for the throne, and the chorus too takes up the lilting theme before a jaunty ritornello, similar to ones by Purcell’s mentor John Blow in its alternation of strings and wind, closes the section. ‘All the grandeur he possesses’ is set most attractively for high tenor, and is transformed into a simple string ritornello of great beauty. The next chorus ‘Therefore let us sing the praises’ finds Purcell at his most homophonic, but with harmonies that show great craftsmanship. The extended bass solo ‘Mighty Charles’ is another example of Purcell’s genius for word-setting, full of nobility and character, and leads into the lilting chorus ‘But thanks be to Heaven’. Here we see the composer’s humour coming out in the long list of fine characteristics that James is advertised as possessing: Purcell may have been amused to decide which member of his ensemble should take the solo words ‘grateful’, ‘just’, ‘courageous’ and—best of all—‘punctual’. The Ode closes with the charming soprano duet ‘May all factious troubles cease’, fleshed out by the composer into a chorus: delightfully the instruments take the repeats before the complete ensemble is instructed to perform it again, ‘Leaving out ye interludes of ye instruments between, and sing it thro, each strain twice, so conclude’.

Compact Disc 8
For his 1694 offering to the Queen, Come ye sons of Art, away, Purcell was on sparkling form, and produced an Ode markedly different to the majority of the twenty-two works which had preceded it. The forces utilized were greater than normal, with an orchestra replacing the more usual single strings, and there was a clearly defined role for the chorus. Recent successes on the stage had led to this more expansive style of composition, and the inspired text (probably by Nahum Tate), full of references to music and musical instruments, was one which gave Purcell’s fertile imagination plenty of source material.

The overture (re-used the following year in The Indian Queen) begins in stately fashion, its opening ten bars full of glorious harmony, and the lively canzona which follows is full of rhythmic ingenuity amongst its three contrasting motifs. But it is in the wistful adagio section that Purcell is at his finest: the sighing motifs and poignant harmonies are full of pathos, and the use of sustained notes, which cut through the middle and bass of the texture, is quite extraordinary. Rather than the expected repeat of the canzona, we are immediately led into the opening chorus, and the first of several repetitions of the main theme in various harmonizations and arrangements—a technique taken straight from the theatre. With the tune taken first by a countertenor, Purcell cleverly solves the problem of re-scoring for the chorus (where the tune would have either been too low or far too high for the sopranos) by providing them with a descant and retaining the tune in the altos, doubled by the trumpet and oboe. In the famous duet ‘Sound the trumpet’ Purcell resisted the temptation to use the actual named instruments, choosing instead an insistently lively two-bar modulating ground bass over which two countertenors demonstrate their virtuosity and giving the royal continuo players splendidly characterful lines. There would have been wry smiles in the orchestra at ‘You make the list’ning shores resound’, for two of the instrumentalists sitting in the band would have been the famous trumpeters Matthias and William Shore.

The centre-piece of the Ode is an ecstatic evocation of music, ‘Strike the viol’. With its mentions of viol, lute, harp and flute (recorder) Purcell was, as he always was by references to music, at his most inspired. The technique he uses was one that he had perfected in numerous previous Odes, combining a ground bass with a line for solo countertenor and then turning the vocal section into an instrumental ritornello. Here he uses a modulating two-bar ground bass, with two recorders adding their gentle accompaniment, over which the soloist weaves his entrancing melody. The best is still to come, for Purcell develops an orchestral ritornello that is one of his finest, alternating and combining the pair of recorders with the strings to create a ravishing movement.

‘The day that such a blessing gave’ is first given to a solo bass, with Purcell’s harmonic skill solving all the problems attendant with putting the melody in the bass line. At the mid-point he transforms the solo into a full chorus, still retaining the melody at the bottom of the texture and once again giving the trebles of the choir a descant to sing. ‘Bid the Virtues’ is quite unique, even amongst the many remarkable movements contained in the Odes. A solo soprano and oboe intertwine in glorious harmonic and melodic writing, at moments florid, at others most touching, all showing Purcell’s ability to set words with extraordinary eloquence. Next comes a rumbustious aria for solo bass, ‘These are the sacred charms’, set over a jaunty ground bass. The final movement ‘See Nature, rejoicing’ is first sung as a duet by the soprano and bass, with contrast between repetitions of the rondeau given by two minor episodes, before the whole choir and orchestra take up Purcell’s strain.

The only complete source material for Come ye sons of Art is a copy by Robert Pindar, dating from 1765, and contains several dubious pieces of scoring which this performance corrects. Purcell scored his overture for one trumpet and one oboe, though in subsequent movements he uses a pair of each. Some modern editors have added an editorial part for a second trumpet (often ignoring the fact that Purcell’s trumpets could play very few notes in their lower registers) and doubled oboes on these lines. Purcell’s intentions appear to have been different, and in the overture we return to his scoring which gave Shore’s remarkable trumpet playing the top line, and the oboe, in its richest register, the second part. Pindar’s manuscript also contains a timpani part in the final chorus, wildly ornamented and out of keeping with other timpani parts of the era. For the opening chorus there is little possibility that the instruments could have been used, for the music moves too far away from the tonic and dominant. But in the last chorus ‘See Nature, rejoicing’ the music is of a different character, tonally more stable, and it is hard not to imagine a timpani part. After all the repetitions of the music in the duet that precedes the chorus, a timpanist could easily have improvised his line.

Welcome, vicegerent of the mighty King, Purcell’s first Ode, dates from 1680 and was written for the return of King Charles II to London, which the diarist Luttrell records as having taken place on 9 September. The Ode does not appear in the Buckingham Palace manuscript, into which Purcell collected many of his early Odes, but two other sources survive, both in the British Museum, demonstrating a remarkable piece of work from a composer just twenty-one years old. The chorus writing is spritely and full of life, the solo vocal writing sensitive and imaginative and the string writing especially fine. Purcell was already the author of a considerable bulk of church music at the Chapel Royal.

The Symphony is confident, richly harmonized in its first section, and showing the influence of Pelham Humfrey and Purcell’s teacher John Blow in the dotted rhythms of the imitative second section. Purcell’s mastery of technical devices is also apparent for, rather than simply repeating the second section of the overture as an instrumental section, he does this whilst superimposing the opening chorus over it, adding a new bass line and giving the original bass as an obbligato to the cello. After such a compositional tour de force comes a touching duet for alto and bass ‘Ah! Mighty Sir’, full of startling harmonic language, and capped by a charmingly scored string ritornello. The reference to ‘Augusta’ is again an alternative for ‘London’. The chorus ‘But your blest presence now’ dances along, and leads into a glorious string ritornello—the first of dozens with which Purcell graced his Royal Odes over the next fifteen years. In ‘Your influous approach’ Purcell echoes the tenor soloist with the full ensemble and is inspired, as always, by the mention of the word ‘harmony’: he leaves the real pictorialization for ‘Apollo with his sacred lyre’ to the continuo players’ imagination as a coda to the movement. ‘When the Summer, in his glory’ is delightfully scored for two sopranos, and the following chorus ‘All loyalty and honour be’ an example of how a simple, homophonic setting can be as effective as the most intricate of choruses. The tenor solo ‘Music the food of love’ is a jewel, with its simple melody repeated and harmonized by the full chorus before the continuo modulates the music up a fourth and the strings are given a ritornello of great charm and beauty. The final chorus of Purcell’s first Ode is deliberately kept simple.

Why, why are all the Muses mute? was the first Welcome Song that Purcell wrote for King James II, and was probably performed on 14 October 1685 at Whitehall, soon after the Court had returned from Windsor. According to the diarist Luttrell, the occasion was marked by ‘publick demonstrations of joy, as ringing of bells, store of bonefires, &c’, and there was more to celebrate, as Monmouth’s rebellion (mentioned in the anonymous author’s text) had recently been suppressed. The opening of the Ode is unique as, at first glance, there appears to be no overture: Purcell’s pictorialization of the text ‘Why, why are all the Muses mute? Why sleeps the viol and the lute? Why hangs untun’d the idle lyre?’ leads him to begin, magically, with a lone solo tenor. The singer manages to wake the chorus (‘Awake, ’tis Caesar does inspire And animates the vocal quire’): the orchestra is harder to rouse but, when it finally arrives, the Symphony is of the highest order. The opening section is intricately detailed and the imitative second section full of busy imagination. After this rather unconventional start the Ode settles into the more established pattern of solos, duets, trios and choruses. The tenor solo ‘When should each soul exalted be?’ moves into a triple-time section which transforms into a five-part chorus and a dancing string ritornello.

For the famous countertenor William Turner, Purcell provided one of his finest ground bass arias, ‘Britain, thou now art great’. As in so many of the Odes he used his well-tried formula—a delicious ground bass, an alto solo and then a glorious string ritornello—and once again Purcell proved the system’s never-failing magic. Next comes a trio and chorus extolling great Caesar’s triumphs, leading into a remarkable bass solo. The bass at the performance (we do not know for certain who he was but can guess that it had to be John Gostling) must have had an astonishing voice, for his splendidly warlike ‘Accurs’d rebellion reared his head’ covers a huge vocal range of over two octaves, with Caesar ‘from on high’ dropping to subterranean levels for the depiction of Hell. This movement is given all the greater contrast by the following soprano duet ‘So Jove, scarce settled in his sky’.

The mid-point of the Ode is marked by a delightfully poised ritornello minuet, with Purcell’s string writing at its most courtly and elegant, leading directly into a duet for tenor and bass, given added richness by a line for an obbligato violin and a brief concluding instrumental ritornello. The Monmouth rebellion is despatched by a tenor solo and chorus, and Europe’s fate is weighed in the balance by two basses: neither Britain nor Purcell’s writing is found wanting. The Ode ends perfectly: the lyrical high tenor solo ‘O how blest is the Isle’ develops into a ravishing string ritornello, full of Purcell’s harmony at its most glorious. But there is even better to come: Purcell appears at his greatest in the final chorus with a valediction worthy of Dido herself. The conclusion of the Ode drops through the chromatic scale in devastating fashion: there is no more poignant ending in all Purcell’s Odes.

Robert King © 2010


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