Purcell’s setting falls into five sections. The first is an extended section of semi-recitative, dramatic in its mournful sentiments, and influenced in its colourful harmonic language by the music of the recently deceased Matthew Locke. Word-painting abounds, with imaginative melodic lines for ‘We had not fall’n, we had not sunk so low’; the ‘grievous heavy weight’ can barely lift itself up the chromatic scale, ‘sad’ is desolately back-dotted and the line for ‘trembling’ uncertainly undulates, the rivers of tears graphically swell and increase into a flood, the heavens wonderfully ‘roll’d the cloud away’, but the most remarkable moment is the extraordinary melisma for ‘sorrows’ which could only have come from Purcell’s pen. At ‘The waters then abated’ Purcell introduces a gentle triple-time arioso, but recitative returns for ‘Lord save our King!’, with another notable melodic illustration for ‘ev’ry broken heart’. ‘Albion is now become a holy land’ is set as a gentle triple-time arioso and for the final section, ‘Numbers of old’, Purcell turns back to recitative, building the tension to a list of some of the ‘former crimes’ of Charles’s reign: ‘Treasons, rebellions, perjuries’ and ‘all the iniquities of the times’. The final phrase is calm in its desolation as the music poignantly pictures the falling crown of England.
from notes by Robert King © 2003
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