Purcell’s delightful response is a musical oxymoron as he presses a splendid, three-bar ground bass, regular in its inexorable constancy, on a text which states exactly the opposite – that she is ‘inconstant’. Purcell’s skill at handling a ground bass is constantly remarked upon: here the harmonic variety he achieves over a phrase which appears, on paper, to be so clearly in C minor, is remarkable, pushing phrases briefly in marvellously outlandish directions. His harmonic inventiveness must have brought a smile to seventeenth-century continuo players, for Purcell demands the introduction of chords which would not have been out of place two centuries later. In the third section a lyrical triple metre is reintroduced: our lover complains that he had thought Cloris to be white ‘like new fall’n snow’, but subsequently discovered that, when the heat increased, she turned out to be a far grubbier (‘sullied’) colour underneath! The fourth section is a repeat of the first three lines of text with the same music as the opening, complete with the two glorious melismas as he repeats his call that Love ‘pity me’. In the final section our lover’s resolve strengthens. In a flurry of furious semiquavers he determines that he will cleanse ‘This fury from my breast’, summoning ‘scorn, revenge and pride’ to help him. The tension builds towards the last bars and a sudden change of tempo: all this anger will ‘At least her image to deface’ and the poet will be freed of his infatuation.
from notes by Robert King © 2003