Thomas D’Urfey’s ‘Ode on the Queen’ was published in his New Poems
of 1690 but was probably set by Purcell the previous year, perhaps as part of the Queen’s birthday celebrations on 30 April. The music first appears in the late seventeenth-century Egerton manuscript in the British Museum (MS 2960) but was not published until 1706 when it appeared in the second edition of Orpheus Britannicus. Purcell set D’Urfey’s six verses of royal flattery in cantata style, separating three sections of arioso with Italianate passages of semi-recitative. The opening is suitably celebratory, rising arpeggionically in trumpet-like fashion, and followed by two gracefully contrasting melismas on ‘Gloriana’ and elegantly dotted rhythms in voice and continuo that picture Gloriana’s ‘smiling brow’. The lilting triple-time aria ‘Glory is but a flatt’ring dream’ is preceded and followed by sections of florid recitative. The ‘Vast pyramids of state’ (whose texts colour the Queen’s majesty with an Egyptian splendour) are expansively set by Purcell. The final aria is a duet between soprano and bass which gives the bass singer an unusually busy line, completely independent from the continuo.
from notes by Robert King © 2003