Cupid, the slyest rogue alive
is an anonymous translation of the nineteenth Idyllium of Theocritus; Purcell’s setting was published in 1685 in Playford’s second volume of The Theatre of Music
. The composer turns the poem into a mini-cantata which (taken at its most literal) tells of the occasion on which Cupid got a taste of his own medicine when stung by a bee. Behind the immediate text lies a mass of subtleties and double entendres, and in the music as many neat illustrations. Cupid’s expectations of finding honey are dashed down the scale when instead he is ‘prick’d’. His reaction to the sting is wonderfully captured in Purcell’s jerky rhythms. The little boy rushes to his mother (the goddess Venus) whose moral reply to his ‘see, mother, see How it has gor’d and wounded me’ is less than sympathetic.
from notes by Robert King © 2003