This remarkable setting is the fourth anthem contained in Purcell’s autograph manuscript now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, suggesting it is an early work, copied certainly by 1681 or 1682 and possibly written earlier. The main body is set for four soloists: the chorus appear in two short sections. The right hand of the organ accompaniment for the opening four bars is, unusually, written out: taken up in turn by each of the voices as they enter, the opening looks back in construction to the anthems of the period of Orlando Gibbons. The marvellous harmony, however, is unmistakably that of Purcell and his era, especially in the angular lines of ‘for I am poor and in misery’. The tenor solo ‘Be merciful unto me, O Lord’ is Italianate in its declamatory style: when the four voices appealingly return at ‘For thou, Lord, art good and gracious’ the harmony is enriched with the bass vocal line running independently from the continuo. After a short chorus, Italianate writing returns with a passage of semi-recitative for the solo bass, leading into a section of contrapuntal ingenuity and extraordinary harmony, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord’. Purcell illustrates ‘O knit my heart unto thee’ by grouping all four voices in close proximity. The final section ‘And I will thank thee, O Lord’ is set in a lilting triple metre, and repeated by the full choir.
from notes by Robert King ©