Hyperion Records

In the black dismal dungeon of despair, Z190
composer
1688; Harmonia Sacra
author of text

Recordings
'Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 7' (CDA66677)
Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 7
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66677  Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51  
'Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music' (CDS44141/51)
Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music
MP3 £35.00FLAC £35.00ALAC £35.00Buy by post £40.00 CDS44141/51  11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
Details
Track 5 on CDA66677 [4'32] Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51
Track 5 on CDS44141/51 CD7 [4'32] 11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

In the black dismal dungeon of despair, Z190
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Setting William Fuller’s doom-laden text of a fallen Christian, Purcell was on splendid form with the devotional song In the black dismal dungeon of despair, published in 1688 in Harmonia Sacra, subtly colouring the text in every conceivable way and producing one of his finest, most impassioned solo settings.

The opening is desolate, the lost soul tormented in the ‘dismal dungeon of Despair’ at the bottom of the voice and accompanied by stark harmony. The repeated notes of ‘dreadful expectation’ threaten ominously, and Purcell menacingly angles the jagged line of ‘certain horrid judgement’. The Christian is resigned to his fate, but one hope remains: the music rises towards ‘a miracle of Love’ but he realises that he ‘scarce dare hope for, or expect’ redemption for, as the line again soars, he is guilty of ‘so long, so great neglect’. With his self-rebuke ‘Fool that I was’ the soul chastises himself for his failure to take up God’s offer, for (in a phrase wonderfully set by Purcell) ‘thou did’st woo, intreat, and grieve’ him to be ‘happy and to live’: yet he chose instead, as the voice drops, ‘to dwell with Death, far from thee’, the phrase stretched out to show the growing distance from God.

A flicker of hope surfaces in the question ‘is there no redemption, no relief?’: the music rises as the question is repeated, interrupted first by the timid call ‘Jesu!’, then by the recollection that God saved even a thief and finally by a heartfelt cry to Jesus for one more chance of redemption. ‘O give me such a glance’ is poignantly repeated: ‘Thy sweet, kind, chiding look’ is all that is required to retrieve this soul, for it ‘did melt that rock’ and so convert St Peter. After such passion, the singer calmly hopes that Jesus will look on him ‘as thou did’st on him’ [Peter], for a soul redeemed is an even greater victory than one created.

from notes by Robert King ©

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