Hyperion Records

From silent shades 'Bess of Bedlam', Z370
composer
? 1682
author of text

Recordings
'Purcell: Secular solo songs, Vol. 3' (CDA66730)
Purcell: Secular solo songs, Vol. 3
Buy by post £10.50 CDA66730  Last few CD copies remaining   Download currently discounted
'Purcell: The complete secular solo songs' (CDS44161/3)
Purcell: The complete secular solo songs
Buy by post £16.50 CDS44161/3  3CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
Details
Track 13 on CDA66730 [4'13] Last few CD copies remaining
Track 13 on CDS44161/3 CD3 [4'13] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

From silent shades 'Bess of Bedlam', Z370
Purcell’s setting of the mad-song Bess of Bedlam probably dates from around 1682. The song was widely distributed (at least ten contemporary or near-contemporary manuscript copies survive) and was printed in both the fourth book of Choice Ayres (1683) and in Orpheus Britannicus. Purcell’s handling of the mood changes is masterly. In only a hundred bars of music there are twelve sections and as many changes of metre, and yet within the deliberate craziness of the song there is a striking progression to Bess’s schizophrenic twists and contradictions.

At the opening she sadly mourns in ‘lovesick melancholy’, the melody plangently harmonized. Her first mad episode takes us to the kingdom of the fairies, halted just as rapidly at the gentle triple metre of ‘In yonder cowslip’ (which still maintains parallels with Shakespeare, now switched from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Ariel’s song in The Tempest). The lilting metre is briefly interrupted by a return to semi-recitative (‘For since my love is dead’) but is soon restored at Bess’s self-pitying ‘Poor Bess for his sake’: her desolate ‘groan’ leads to the marvellously lugubrious ‘I’ll lay me down and die’, with its list of nocturnal animals, so unsuited to ‘warble forth my elegy’. Pure madness dashes by in the gabble of ‘Did you not see my love’, as rapidly replaced by the triple time of ‘Ladies, beware ye’ and the mythological imagery of Charon and the Furies. A moment of relative sanity returns in the lilting ordinariness of ‘Poor Bess will return’, but the embittered chromaticism of ‘Cold and hungry am I grown’ leads into another brief flight of fantasy: she will feed upon the food of the gods. The final stanzas are more profound; those who are content do ‘all sorrow prevent’ and Bess is, so long as she is ‘free from the law’, in her thoughts ‘as great as a King’.

from notes by Robert King 2003

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Details for CDA66730 track 13
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-94-73013
Duration
4'13
Recording date
29 March 1994
Recording venue
Orford Church, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Ben Turner
Recording engineer
Philip Hobbs
Hyperion usage
  1. Purcell: Secular solo songs, Vol. 3 (CDA66730)
    Disc 1 Track 13
    Release date: September 1994
    Last few CD copies remaining
  2. Purcell: The complete secular solo songs (CDS44161/3)
    Disc 3 Track 13
    Release date: November 2003
    3CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
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