Purcell made three settings of Colonel Henry Heveningham’s ‘If music be the food of love’. This version, the first, was published in June 1692 in The Gentleman’s Journal
, and then, somewhat altered, reproduced the next year in Heptinstall’s Comes Amoris
. The third version, published in 1693, was completely different. Heveningham takes the first line of Shakespeare’s famous passage from Twelfth Night
and develops the thought in a different way as an incitement to love. This rarely performed first setting (the 1693 ‘second’ version is far more frequently heard) is glorious. The melody throughout is ravishing, with a wonderfully tasteful use of accented passing notes. The repeated rising request ‘Sing on’ echoes the later, ardent (and slightly risqué) list of qualities – ‘Your eyes, your mien [bearing], your tongue’ – that declare ‘That you are music everywhere’. The longest melisma is reserved for the word ‘music’. The second stanza is set to the same music as the first; the repeated words this time describe the ‘pleasures’ that ‘invade both eye and ear’, which are ‘So fierce’ that they ‘wound’ (the sexual connotation being quite obvious) all the senses. The last pair of lines, set to Purcell’s wonderfully panting, rising figuration, contains the usual double entendre of ‘dying’.
from notes by Robert King © 2003