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Hyperion Records

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Classical Landscape with Figures (c1770) by Alexander Runciman (1736-1785)
Track(s) taken from CDA67007
Recording details: May 1994
St Andrew's Church, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by David McGuinness & Martin Dalby
Engineered by James Hunter
Release date: April 1998
Total duration: 10 minutes 36 seconds

'Splendid. 'Steane's Choice' (Gramophone)

'A recording that presents some fascinating material to fine advantage' (American Record Guide)

'Utterly fascinating. Thoroughly rewarding music and music-making' (Fanfare, USA)

Eheu! quam diris hominis
author of text

The text for Eheu! quam diris hominis was written by Herman Boerhaave. The relationship between composer and librettist is particularly evoked in these words, which describes death as the only true release from physical suffering. Clerk responded feelingly to a text which had obvious bearing on his own sufferings, particularly the recurrence of smallpox shortly after his arrival in Rome. Boerhaave had failed to cure him, despite high hopes for a new treatment he had developed, and Clerk (without companion or servant) was nursed through his illness by the ladies of the Society of the Tour di Spechio.

Boerhaave wrote to Clerk about the text, describing the emphasis he had given to I, E and S as sounds suitable for lamentation, drawing attention to the rhythm and metre, and stating that in the first two sections the mood of mourning dominates, in the third a sense of hope emerges, the fourth being joyful and the fifth, devout and exultant. Clerk has respected these observations. The opening Adagio and Aria are full of intensity, with sighing repeated notes and dissonant harmonic suspensions, the voice declaiming in broken phrases.

For the second half Clerk changes the key to the relative major and the bass line becomes cheerfully active, the vocal line gently florid; but this is dancing on the edge of the grave. The final Allegro is a dark little jig in the minor key advising us to leave the earth with joyful singing.

from notes by John Purser 1998

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