The symphony is unusual in that it is set on a ground bass: that ground too is unusual as Purcell later re-used it in the song O solitude, my sweetest choice. Purcell rarely recycled his own material. The Symphony is in one section, written in gentle, melancholy vein; the six-note rising scale heard in the ground permeates throughout this introduction, creating a continuous, intricately-woven texture which leads into the first vocal section. Purcell’s setting of ‘incline thine ear unto me’ is delightfully angular and leads via a short instrumental ritornello into the duet ‘For thou, O Lord God’. The trio returns at ‘Through thee have I been holden up’, with Purcell colouring ‘Thou art he that took me out of my mother’s womb’ with dropping chromaticism: the section is closed by a lyrical Symphony which is full of the delicious bittersweet harmony that makes Purcell’s instrumental writing so attractively individual.
‘O what great troubles’ is given to a solo bass, accompanied by two violins: Purcell characterfully illustrates the word ‘turn’ and the voice descends for ‘thou brought’st me from the deep’. For the more optimistic ‘Therefore will I praise thee’ Purcell introduces a major key and makes a rhythmic feature of the loosely syncopated ‘playing upon an instrument of music’; once again the section is closed by a fine string ritornello. The alto solo ‘My lips shall be fain’ is set over a gentle running bass and leads into the final Alleluias. This extended section features some delightful interplay between the three solo voices and another splendid ritornello before the anthem is closed by a short chorus.
from notes by Robert King ©
Other albums featuring this work