Farewell, all joys
was published in 1685 in Playford’s The Theatre of Music
and repeated ten years later in the same publisher’s The New Treasury of Musick
. A lady pines for her lover who has gone overseas, perhaps as a traveller or a sailor – though she is confident that, when he returns, she will live ‘In lasting love’. The poem derives from a celebrated series of Latin elegies by a French poet, F Remond. Alexis was a young Roman noble who had taken a vow to devote himself solely to God. But his parents, whom he always obeyed, commanded him to marry. After the ceremony he slipped away, disguised as a pilgrim bound for Tarsus. In the elegies his bride, Ruth, laments his decision and fears for him on the seas. The version Purcell sets secularizes the story and, despite the ambiguity of the last line, we are not, in this case, left with much doubt that his bride will live happily in the end.
Purcell’s song is simple and strophic, much in the lute-song tradition, but exquisitely crafted, especially in the rising chromaticism of ‘Whilst I with pensive look, and tears, This cruel absence mourn’, and the eloquent sighs and panting of the last stanza.
from notes by Robert King © 2003