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O consider my adversity, Z32
author of text
Psalm 119: 153-60

'Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 7' (CDA66677)
Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 7
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'Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music' (CDS44141/51)
Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music
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Track 2 on CDA66677 [9'25] Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51
Track 2 on CDS44141/51 CD7 [9'25] 11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

O consider my adversity, Z32
The verse anthem O consider my adversity appears in three separate manuscripts collected together by James Hawkins, organist of Ely Cathedral from 1682-1729 for use by his choir. Hawkins transcribed considerable amounts of his contemporaries’ work (including much by Purcell) during his extraordinarily long career at the Cathedral, and on at least one occasion got into trouble with his Dean and Chapter for spending too much money on copyists’ bills. Scholars have not ascertained the date of composition for Purcell’s anthem, but the writing is quite sectionalised and appears to date from later in his compositional career, possibly around the same time as Thy word is a lantern.

The text takes eight verses from Psalm 119, setting them largely for a solo trio: the scale of the anthem is surprisingly extended. At the start each voice in turn sings Purcell’s opening phrase over a descending continuo line, with the dropping interval of ‘consider’ creating an imploring mood: at ‘For I do not forget thy law’ the three soloists’ lines move close together and lead to plangent suspensions between the two higher voices. The bass changes the mood with a call to action ‘Avenge thou my cause’ which rises through the voices and leads to a lively triple-time section calling on God to ‘quicken me according to thy word’. The second tenor has a more lyrical section ‘Health is far from the ungodly’ (under which we hear elements of the opening continuo descending scale), showing a pitying, rather than an angry, attitude towards his enemies’ failure to ‘regard thy statutes’. The trio returns for ‘Great is thy mercy, O Lord’, set powerfully with the voices at the higher ends of their registers before the bouncing triple time returns with the repeated call to ‘quicken me’, heard first homophonically, then in imitation. The chorus repeat the confident, chordal assertion ‘Great is thy mercy O Lord’, and also take up the imitative call to God to inspire and animate them.

In a section of semi-recitative the solo bass mournfully recounts that there are many ‘that trouble me and persecute me’, but in more regular arioso affirms his steadfastness even in the face of such massed opposition. The tenor interrupts in Italianesque declamation to state that ‘it grieveth me when I see the transgressors’, a sentiment which is taken up by all three soloists. Another short, lyrical section ‘Consider, O Lord, how I love thy commandments’ follows, leading into a repeat of the dotted figuration ‘O quicken me’, but this time moving into a legato section, richly harmonised, ‘according to thy loving kindness’ and a short closing continuo ritornello. The final solo section is positive, with God’s omnipotence thrown between the voices in a lively rhythm, broadening majestically during the closing bars.

The Gloria looks back in construction to the choral writing of some of the Renaissance composers whose work Purcell studied closely, but draws strongly on the composer’s own armoury of unique harmonic and melodic language. ‘World without end, Amen’, again based on a falling scale (now heard in both real and inverted form), is an extraordinary piece of imaginative counterpoint.

from notes by Robert King ©

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