In the black dismal dungeon of despair
and Evening hymn
(‘Now that the sun hath veiled his light’) both appear in Book 1 of Harmonia Sacra: or, Divine Hymns and Dialogues
, first published in 1688. The words of both are by Dr William Fuller (‘late Lord Bishop of Lincoln’) and are devotional pieces, the first being a plea for mercy and redemption, and the second, ostensibly a prayer on going to bed, has allegorical implications of the feeling of resignation in the face of death, so that the ‘evening’ referred to could well be the twilight of life itself. Purcell sets these subtle words to an expressive melody over a five-bar ground bass, with slowly-changing harmonies, sensitively realized by Britten in his piano interpretation.
from notes by Michael Short © 1992