Fly swift, ye hours
was published in early 1692 in the sixth book of The Banquet of Musick
, suggesting that it may have been written during the second half of 1691. The song is also contained in a number of other contemporary sources, including a manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library into which it appears to have been copied between September 1690 and July 1692. Purcell sets the text as an Italianate mini-cantata with a splendidly busy opening, scales scurrying in voice and continuo. The ardent ‘Bring back my Belvidera’ totally changes mood and tempo and leads into a lilting triple-time arioso section, ‘Swifter than Time’. The extraordinary recitative ‘Soft peace is banish’d’ recalls parts of Dido and Aeneas
in its despairing chromaticism and languid melismas. The poet is trapped in his love: in the closing triple-time aria he is resigned to ‘court my ruin’ and, with a delicious, bittersweet melisma, to bless the ‘pleasing pain’.
from notes by Robert King © 2003