Hyperion Records

O God, thou art my God, Z35
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The full anthem O God, thou art my God is a relatively early work dating from 1680-82, whose subsequent popularity is indicated by the considerable number of manuscripts, spread throughout Britain, in which it appears. Even a hymn tune was based on its final pages. The style is uncomplicated, suggesting perhaps that Purcell’s choir was not at its strongest when he was writing the anthem, and also showing the young composer’s familiarity with the works of Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons, whose music he would have copied from an early age.

The opening demonstrates those influences, with the first homophonic phrase leading to a brief imitative section ‘early will I seek thee’. The verse section for lower voices ‘My soul thirsteth for thee’ shows a greater degree of melodic and harmonic inventiveness and leads back to another short chorus section, based on another two imitative points. The upper voices are provided with a touching solo trio, the word ‘loving’ treated affectionately and, with the full choir, counterpoint returns, climbing through the musical scale for ‘and lift up thy hands in thy name’. At ‘therefore under the shadow of thy wings’ Purcell turns to antiphony between decani and cantoris, the two sides of the choir. With the ‘Halleluia’ churchgoers will find themselves on familiar ground, for later hymn arrangers, always keen to spot a fine tune, did so with this, naming Purcell’s melody ‘Westminster Abbey’.

from notes by Robert King ©

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