Purcell’s setting may date from around 1684/5, and is based on twenty-eight repetitions of a ground bass – the same one on which he had based the delicious symphony to the anthem. Over this hypnotic bass Purcell illustrates the visionary text with the most ravishing melody, covering the regularity of the bass with overlapping vocal phrases and wonderful harmonic variety. Word-painting abounds: ‘O solitude’ recurs throughout the song, set with a selection of desolately falling intervals, ‘restless’ meanders in its melisma, ‘today as fresh and green’ optimistically rises through the scale, the harmony of ‘their hard fate’ turns marvellously, ‘woes’ droop and ‘as only death can cure’ drops to the bottom of the voice. O solitude is one of Purcell’s masterpieces.
from notes by Robert King © 2003