This setting by Purcell of an Abraham Cowley poem was subtitled ‘The Thraldom’; in one of Purcell’s major fair-copy manuscripts (British Library 20.h.8) there is a heading ‘The Thraldome out of Mr Cowley’ and space for the song, but Purcell never copied it in. Instead, there are two principal sources, the British Library’s Egerton Manuscript (MS 2958) and the first volume of Orpheus Britannicus
. Purcell always enjoyed setting Cowley’s texts, and this setting, dating probably from 1685, was no exception. In the first section the poet is struck down with gruesome symptoms (colourfully set by Purcell) which can only presage death. But in the second section, a lighter aria, we find that the disease is not fatal: it is Love, a more vicious opponent than Death, who ‘with barbarous mercy saves The vanquish’d lives to make them slaves’. The last section is a triple-time aria in which the poet submits to Love’s slavery – panting, groaning and sighing along the way – but asks that Love, amongst a variety of constructional similes, should employ this slave ‘to dig the mine’.
from notes by Robert King © 2003