Musing on cares
shows the scurrilous wit that made Thomas D’Urfey’s writing so popular in the late seventeenth century. Purcell’s setting was published in 1685 in the second book of The Theatre of Music
. The first two verses are set strophically and describe the odd pastoral scene that the author recently witnessed in ‘a sad cypress grove’. A young – and clearly naive – shepherd asked the conventional trilogy of gods, Virtue, Fame and Love, how he might be assured of a place ‘beyond the skies’, and how he ‘might be sav’d’. In the second verse we hear that Virtue recommended a pious and well-behaved course, but that Fame suggested becoming famous through defending king and country. Love had a more novel strategy and out-voted the other two gods in advising the shepherd to ‘get a mistress fair and young’ and make hay ‘constantly and long’.
The shepherd didn’t waste a moment and, as the bass singer enters and a lively triple time replaces the slower metre of the first two verses, he went straight to the cottage of Sylvia (a stock pastoral figure) and told her (in Purcell’s coyly-set ‘soft expressions’) what he had been instructed to do to achieve ‘The way to heavenly joys’. She, who ‘with piety was stored’, didn’t waste a moment, and ‘took him’ (a double entendre if ever there was one) ‘at his word’, ensuring that ‘thus they both were sav’d’.
from notes by Robert King © 2003