With Let mine eyes run down with tears, dating from around 1682, we come to one of Purcell’s greatest masterpieces. Jeremiah’s desolate text is treated to a five-part vocal texture, accompanied only by basso continuo. The composer’s rich harmonic and melodic language is at its most original, and pictorialisation is present in almost every phrase from the opening downward melisma representing tears, through the desolate setting of ‘broken’, the false relation on ‘great breach’ and the scotch snap and jagged downward leap for ‘very grievous blow’. The tenor and bass are provided with a graphic recitativo-like section at ‘If I go forth into the field’ (with notable word-painting for the word ‘sick’), before the five voices unite for a pathos-laden setting of ‘Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? Hath thy soul loathed Sion?’. Purcell uses his five voices with consummate skill, passing short phrases such as ‘Why hast thou smitten us?’ mournfully, almost angrily, between them, and then uniting at moments such as ‘And there is no healing for us’.
The build-up at ‘We looked for peace, and there is no good’ is almost unbearable in its tension. The simplicity of the first chorus ‘We acknowledge, O Lord’ comes as a relief from such tensions but desolation quickly returns, with the pleading phrases punctuated with repetitions by each voice in turn of the word ‘remember’ and the desperate cry of ‘Oh do not disgrace the throne of thy glory’. After the tenor’s ‘Are there any among the vanities of the gentiles’ a brighter mood emerges with ‘Art thou not he?’ before the final chorus, more hopeful in its mood of resignation, gives grounds for optimism and closes one of the most remarkable pieces of the age.
from notes by Robert King ©