Movement 01: Symphony
Mark Bennett (trumpet), Michael Laird (trumpet), The Parley of Instruments, Peter Holman (conductor)
Movement 02: Of old, when heroes thought it base
Movement 03: The bashful Thames, for beauty so renown'd
Movement 04: The pale and the purple rose
Movement 05: And in each track of glory since
Movement 06: Symphony
Movement 07: And now when the renown'd Nassau
Movement 08: They did no storms, nor threat'nings fear
Movement 09: So when the glitt'ring Queen of Night
Movement 10: Let music join
Movement 11: Sound trumpets, sound! beat ev'ry drum
Movement 12: Sound all to him
With William and Mary duly crowned there was more topical material available than usual, and the Stewards commissioned the best available author and composer to celebrate in ‘a very splendid Entertainment of all sorts of Vocal and Instrumental Musick’. Thomas D’Urfey included the libretto in his Pills to Purge Melancholy, describing it as ‘An Ode on the Assembly of the Nobility and Gentry of the City and County of York, at the Anniversary Feast, March the 27th, 1690. Set to Musick by Mr. Henry Purcell. One of the finest Compositions he ever made, and cost £100 the performing’. Of old, when heroes thought it base was ostensibly a history of York from Roman times onwards, but it also contained allegories of the Glorious Revolution. Despite D’Urfey’s sometimes contrived text, Purcell responds with music of high quality.
The two-section Symphony is an extensive one, with trumpets, oboes and strings provided with a splendid canzona-like opening, arpeggios rising and falling around Purcell’s lively theme. The second section is a lilting triple-time movement, closely imitative and suitably celebratory. A solo bass, complete with graphic word-painting, begins the story with the Romans (the ‘martial race’) invading Britain, although the audience could hardly have missed the implied reference to the recent replacement of James II by William, and is followed by a short instrumental ritornello and duet for high tenor and bass ‘Brigantium, honour’d with a race divine’. Brigantium was the region which effectively made up the county of Yorkshire, and the reference to Constantine was to the Roman leader whose successful military campaign in Britain led him to be proclaimed emperor by his troops in Eboracum (now the city of York). Once again, Purcell’s treatment of the words, especially the reference to the ‘blooming glories’ is particularly effective and affectionate. Two recorders introduce ‘The bashful Thames’, delightfully running past her ‘puny town’ (London) with glorious harmony at moments such as ‘Augusta [London] then did drooping lie’. Purcell then translates the solo into a most touching chorus, adding beautifully crafted inner parts. Next the story moves on to the Wars of the Roses, fought between the Houses of York and Lancaster between 1455 and 1485. Purcell’s gentle setting of ‘The pale and the purple rose’ is introduced by an extended instrumental ritornello. The bass line ingeniously avoids the first beat of the bar, and over it the oboes and upper strings play a melody of great elegance. When the alto soloist enters with his expressive melody, the off-beat accompaniment is taken up by the all the strings, a device which gives a poignant ending. The following duet ‘And in each track of glory since’ appears to have been especially popular, and was published separately. As in ‘The bashful Thames’ Purcell follows the duet with a choral version, harmonizing the melody with the addition of delicious alto and tenor parts.
The opening joyful Symphony is repeated in full and leads directly into the tenor duet ‘And now when the renown’d Nassau’. This section is a direct reference to William III, one of whose seats was as Count of Nassau in Rheinland-Pfalz. Over a tightly turning bass line the two soloists and two solo trumpets weave a fine movement, full of subtle turns and interesting contrasts. Purcell’s bass duet ‘They did no storms, nor threat’nings fear’ is a splendid, blustering example: the humour in the setting of ‘the grumbling air’ is particularly notable. Next comes one of the most extraordinary movements of the Ode, the tenor solo ‘So when the glitt’ring Queen of Night’. Purcell uses a hypnotic ground bass, just five notes long, also utilized in the main melody. D’Urfey’s text here is inspired, and Purcell’s reaction to it is breathtaking in its calm, nocturnal poise and its ravishing harmonies. The second section in particular is glorious with its pictorialization of ‘the globe that swells’ and the shaft of soft light that Purcell brings by the brief use of the major key at the word ‘ray’. The chorus that follows finds Purcell with a subject that rarely fails to inspire him—that of music. He sets ‘Let music join’ in rich six-part counterpoint, at the midpoint additionally putting the melody into the bass in ingenious double augmentation before a dancing theme brings the movement to a surprisingly speedy ending. The movement ‘Sound trumpets, sound!’ is less subtle, and clearly was intended to set Yorkshire toes tapping with its rollicking rhythm and easily remembered tune, repeated after the soloist by strings and trumpets with the addition of a throbbing bass line, and then, following Purcell’s instructions, repeated ‘over again with all the instruments’. For the last movement Purcell goes into his most ceremonial mode, with a mighty bass solo introducing block chords from the chorus and orchestral fanfares.
from notes by Robert King © 2010