The opening is dramatic. The ‘drowsy world’ is commanded to listen as the ‘loud prophet’ brings his message. The two poles are to ‘suppress their stormy noise’ – even the raging sea is miraculously calmed. A ‘dreadful host of judgements’ rises inexorably up the chromatic scale to ‘scourge the rebel world’, marching around in a winding melisma: the sword of God wreaks its dreadful revenge (‘from it streams a dismal ray’ is especially blue in its harmonic colouring), copious amounts of blood are spilled and eventually nothing but bones are left. In the first section of arioso it is calmly announced that a sacrifice will be prepared by God, not of animals, but of mankind. In a momentous section we hear that mankind will violently fall, and even ‘Nature and Time shall both be slain’: the ‘wide-stretched scroll of heaven’ will burn and the sun will ‘headlong into the sea descend’. In a dolorous minor section, we hear that the few people who remain will be poisoned by the debris. Purcell’s genius for setting words rarely was given such graphic material!
The ‘destroying angel’ rhythmically struts his territory in a short section of arioso, surveying his chosen ground before an even more desolate scene of destruction is outlined, with serpents rolling in the streets, wolves howling, and the ‘wing’d ill omens of the air’ living in the ‘gilt chambers’ of mankind; even the leopard ‘does not stay’. Unburied ghosts ‘sadly moan’ and satyrs cackle horribly at their groaning discomfort. To complete the destruction, evil spirits angularly ‘dance and revel in the mask of night’. Mankind’s folly has ensured that the world has been turned topsy-turvy.
from notes by Robert King ©
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