Hyperion Records

With sick and famish'd eyes, Z200
author of text
Religious Elegy

'Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 5' (CDA66656)
Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 5
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'Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music' (CDS44141/51)
Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music
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Track 2 on CDA66656 [5'22] Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51
Track 2 on CDS44141/51 CD5 [5'22] 11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

With sick and famish'd eyes, Z200
George Herbert’s graphically descriptive ‘religious elegy’ was set by Purcell during 1688, a year in which many of the composer’s finest solo devotional songs are thought to have been written. Herbert (1593-1633) was, as well as a gifted poet and an influential academic figure before he turned to the priesthood, a keen musician whose regular visits to hear the singing in Salisbury Cathedral he described as ‘Heaven upon Earth’. Purcell set seven of the thirteen verses of With sick and famish’d eyes, colouring their ardent sentiments with music of extraordinary intensity and enhancing the words with pictorialisation of great detail.

The opening sets a doleful tone, the writer’s spirit at its lowest ebb, eyes and bones weary to the point of exhaustion. His groans and cries rise with faint optimism through the scale, only for his hopes to be dashed at ‘No end?’ His throat is discordantly hoarse, his heart withered at the lowest point of the scale, and his confused thoughts are represented in musical circles: the voice falls with its subject, yet still clambers back to call again. ‘Bowels of pity’ are suitably discordant, and the singer calls to the ‘Lord of my soul’, hopelessness represented by reaching only the seventh note of the scale: ‘love of my mind’ hits a plangent false relation, and the music bows ‘down thine ear’. Words ‘scatter’, sorrows are desolately harmonised, and the music rises as the flames of the furnace increase. The interval on ‘griefs’ sadly falls, and ‘shames’ again plunge to the bottom of the voice. The death of Jesus is coloured with mournful harmony, and once again the writer raises his voice as he calls to the Lord.

Desperation is replaced by the faintest of optimism as ‘thy dust doth stir, it moves, it creeps to thee’. He pleads that his prayers, even though he is no more important than lowly dust, will be heard: ‘Pluck out thy dart, And heal my troubled breast’ and, with a monumental discord, ‘heal my troubled breast’. But the emotional outburst is to no avail: the writer, and Purcell’s graphic music, desolately dies.

from notes by Robert King ©

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