Love arms himself in Celia’s eyes
was posthumously published in 1698 in Orpheus Britannicus
. The text was by Matthew Prior (1664–1721) who was, like Purcell, educated at Westminster School and then had a successful career as a diplomat, later negotiating the treaty of Utrecht in 1713 (which was colloquially known as ‘Matt’s Peace’). Stylistically, the work appears to be one of Purcell’s later settings. The opening is busily militaristic, full of trumpet calls as love arms himself. The poet fancies Celia and knows that this will cause him pain, but equally knows that to stop would be even worse. Purcell’s falling ‘Alas’ breaks the vigorous mood; the ‘Repeated thoughts’ recur briefly in the voice but are ingeniously extended as a continuo undercurrent whilst the voice continues with new text. The mood and key changes for the second verse: in a minor, triple-time section the poet calls on Reason to leave him and put his logical powers to work instead on the unattainable Celia. Her breast is ‘disengag’d and cold’ (this last word wonderfully set by Purcell) yet perhaps Reason can argue with Celia that whilst she ‘may destroy, How great’ (set with a marvellous flourish), ‘how godlike’ it would be if she were instead ‘to save’.
from notes by Robert King © 2003