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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66598
Recording details: January 1992
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Antony Howell & Robert Menzies
Release date: November 1992
Total duration: 27 minutes 46 seconds

'An important enterprise … is completed and crowned … A joy to listen to' (Spectator)

Why, why are all the Muses mute?, Z343
14 October 1685; Welcome Song for King James
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Why, why are all the Muses mute? was the first Welcome Song that Purcell wrote for King James II, and was probably performed on 14 October 1685 at Whitehall, soon after the Court had returned from Windsor. According to the diarist Luttrell, the occasion was marked by ‘publick demonstrations of joy, as ringing of bells, store of bonefires, &c’, and there was more to celebrate, as Monmouth’s rebellion (mentioned in the anonymous author’s text) had recently been suppressed. The opening of the Ode is unique as, at first glance, there appears to be no overture: Purcell’s pictorialization of the text ‘Why, why are all the Muses mute? Why sleeps the viol and the lute? Why hangs untun’d the idle lyre?’ leads him to begin, magically, with a lone solo tenor. The singer manages to wake the chorus (‘Awake, ’tis Caesar does inspire And animates the vocal quire’): the orchestra is harder to rouse but, when it finally arrives, the Symphony is of the highest order. The opening section is intricately detailed and the imitative second section full of busy imagination. After this rather unconventional start the Ode settles into the more established pattern of solos, duets, trios and choruses. The tenor solo ‘When should each soul exalted be?’ moves into a triple-time section which transforms into a five-part chorus and a dancing string ritornello.

For the famous countertenor William Turner, Purcell provided one of his finest ground bass arias, ‘Britain, thou now art great’. As in so many of the Odes he used his well-tried formula—a delicious ground bass, an alto solo and then a glorious string ritornello—and once again Purcell proved the system’s never-failing magic. Next comes a trio and chorus extolling great Caesar’s triumphs, leading into a remarkable bass solo. The bass at the performance (we do not know for certain who he was but can guess that it had to be John Gostling) must have had an astonishing voice, for his splendidly warlike ‘Accurs’d rebellion reared his head’ covers a huge vocal range of over two octaves, with Caesar ‘from on high’ dropping to subterranean levels for the depiction of Hell. This movement is given all the greater contrast by the following soprano duet ‘So Jove, scarce settled in his sky’.

The mid-point of the Ode is marked by a delightfully poised ritornello minuet, with Purcell’s string writing at its most courtly and elegant, leading directly into a duet for tenor and bass, given added richness by a line for an obbligato violin and a brief concluding instrumental ritornello. The Monmouth rebellion is despatched by a tenor solo and chorus, and Europe’s fate is weighed in the balance by two basses: neither Britain nor Purcell’s writing is found wanting. The Ode ends perfectly: the lyrical high tenor solo ‘O how blest is the Isle’ develops into a ravishing string ritornello, full of Purcell’s harmony at its most glorious. But there is even better to come: Purcell appears at his greatest in the final chorus with a valediction worthy of Dido herself. The conclusion of the Ode drops through the chromatic scale in devastating fashion: there is no more poignant ending in all Purcell’s Odes.

from notes by Robert King © 2010

Other albums featuring this work
'Purcell: The Complete Odes & Welcome Songs' (CDS44031/8)
Purcell: The Complete Odes & Welcome Songs
MP3 £35.00FLAC £35.00ALAC £35.00Buy by post £38.50 CDS44031/8  8CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
'Essential Purcell' (KING2)
Essential Purcell
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'The James Bowman Collection' (KING3)
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