Hyperion Records

Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei, Z135
Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes is one of only two sacred Latin motets by Purcell which, from its autograph manuscript, has been dated around 1680. It is not known why Purcell should have set a Latin Psalm text: it seems highly improbable that such a work could have been performed at the Anglican Chapel Royal. It is just possible, although unlikely, that it could have been written for the Catholic chapel of King Charles’s Queen Catherine. Whatever its purpose, ‘Jehova’ is one of Purcell’s most astonishing church works, combining progressive and conservative styles. Its declamatory solo and choral work shows Purcell at his most highly Italianate, but combines such forward-looking techniques with sections of polyphony which look back to the English masters of the late Renaissance. Harmonically the work shows Purcell at his most adventurous. Elgar is said to have enquired, when orchestrating ‘Jehova’, whether the score he was using contained misprints!

The first section demonstrates Purcell’s choral mastery: over the mysterious opening chords the second trebles float their high entry, building towards the angry ‘Quam multi insurgunt contra me’ and the counterpoint of ‘quam multi dicunt de anima mea’. The entries of ‘non est salus isti in Deo’ (‘There is no help for him in God’) build magnificently to a climax. The tenor solo ‘At tu, Jehova’ is highly Italianate in its declamation, moving into a section of triple-time arioso: the choir answer with the forceful ‘Voce mea ad Jehovam clamanti’ and a contrapuntal section ‘respondit mihi’ which builds to another sumptuous close, in which the choir basses divert from the continuo line to add extra richness to the harmony. ‘Ego cubui et dormivi’ is one of Purcell’s most vividly atmospheric pieces of choral writing, illustrating the psalmist sleeping and awaking, safe in the knowledge that the Lord was sustaining him. Purcell splendidly sets the warlike ‘Non timebo a myriadibus populi’ for solo bass, calling on God to save him. The continuo line at ‘Qui percussisti omnes inimicos meos maxilliam’ [‘maxillam’ would be better grammar] (‘Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek-bone’) falls inexorably before the teeth of the ungodly are broken. The closing chorus is triumphant in its lilting triple metre.

from notes by Robert King ©

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