Only two of Purcell’s secular solo songs, This poet sings the Trojan wars
and Bacchus is a pow’r divine
, are for solo bass voice. ‘Bacchus’ is a splendidly theatrical song whose date of composition is unknown; it first appeared posthumously in the first volume of Orpheus Britannicus
(1698). We can presume that Purcell wrote the song for a bass singer who had not only a good top register and a strong lower end to his voice, but was also able to act the song.
Purcell’s setting suggests that perhaps he was not without some experience in this subject. The singer starts sober, drinks ‘mighty wine’ and subsides ‘down dead’. His imagination then comes to life in a variety of drunken states, singing ‘without thought of want’, fantasizing as he lies on the ground and truculantly outlining (and punning on) the benefits of drinking rather than going off to war.
from notes by Robert King © 2003