The opening phrase is beautifully shaped, rising to ‘you lovers’ and rapidly falling to ‘fortune or disdain’; the harmony under ‘my ashes’ is wistfully coloured. The ‘hard marble’ is melted with a drooping figuration, and the ‘relentless stones’ are softened with a deliciously angular interval. The ‘cold embraces’ drop to the lower end of the voice, and ‘all Love’s cruelties’ cover an octave and a half in just two words. Our spirit is alone in his sadness, lamenting that for him there are no public protestations of grief at his passing: ‘No verse, No Epicedium bring, No peaceful Requiem’ [an Epicedium is a poetic Latin obituary]. Ironically, by setting the words to music, Purcell produces just that ‘peaceful Requiem’ in his setting of ‘profane numbers’ [poetry and metre]: his music desolately represents the ‘sacred silence that dwells’ in this graveyard. For a moment the tension rises at ‘Vast griefs’ but the outburst is quickly stilled by another falling interval as the spirit calls that we should ‘softly mourn, Lest you disturb the peace that attends my urn’. Once again the bottom of the voice is used to colour the melisma of the ‘dismal grave’, on which only cypress and yew trees, symbolic of death, will grow: ‘kinder flow’rs’ [Stanley reveals that these are roses] will not take root in ‘such unhappy earth’, even though the singer’s phrase rises in false optimism. One final outburst ‘Weep only o’er my dust’ prefaces the epitaph ‘Here lies To Love and Fate an equal sacrifice’: in the repetition of this last, short phrase the ‘chorus’ (a bass singer) appears, almost as a ghost. His entrance, just as the song is plaintively ending, is quite magical.
from notes by Robert King © 2003