Francis Quarles’s marvellous poem The earth trembled (subtitled ‘On our saviour’s passion’) also sets a scene of worldly destruction, but this time Purcell’s inspired setting is poignantly restrained, and made all the more effective by the use of a solo boy treble, able to put across the enormity of the text with youthful innocence. Everywhere word-painting abounds: heaven closes its eyes with a large downward interval, the mourning of the sky is harmonically and melodically graphic, and the clouds drop tears of great pathos. The dead rise, graves ‘gape to be his tomb’, heaven sends down ‘elegious thunder’, the very foundations of the world are loosened and the veil of the temple is torn in two. But, all this violence now described, desolate sadness returns ‘to teach our hearts what our sad hearts should do’, the central word ‘heart’ given especial emphasis. The key change and pathos of ‘Can senseless things do this’ are almost unbearable, and the tears return, first in an emotional outburst, ‘Drill forth, my tears’, before they slowly trickle down, one by one.
from notes by Robert King ©