The composer’s use of ground basses in the church music is relatively infrequent (especially if compared, for instance, with the odes), but here is an exception, with the anthem anchored by seventeen repetitions of a simple eight-note bass line. Purcell achieves his usual astonishing variety over such a potentially limiting framework by employing ingenious variations of tonality, texture and tempo. The ground itself never wavers, though (as with all the best examples) one can easily forget its presence. For the first three repetitions of the ground the higher of the two tenors is given a tuneful solo, but the mood changes at ‘Assail’d with grief and pain’, with the three voices now in close proximity to each other, leaning off each other’s suspensions and creating densely-packed harmony. For ‘Nor did I cry to God in vain’ the metre switches to triple time, and the bass is given a brief solo before the trio returns for ‘God and thyself’. The setting of ‘In quiet rest’ and ‘all thy falling tears’ is especially effective. With the second tenor’s solo ‘The solemn payment of the vows’ the opening metre returns, and in four-part harmony (for the bass singer and continuo have independent lines) Purcell reinforces the writer’s commitment that he is ‘thine’.
from notes by Robert King ©
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