Hyperion Records

Begin the song, and strike the living lyre, Z183
author of text
The Resurrection, A Pindaric Ode

'Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 3' (CDA66623)
Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 3
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'Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music' (CDS44141/51)
Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music
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Track 3 on CDA66623 [8'11] Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51
Track 3 on CDS44141/51 CD3 [8'11] 11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

Begin the song, and strike the living lyre, Z183
Begin the song, and strike the living lyre is one of two settings Purcell made of poems by Abraham Cowley. Cowley (1618-1667) was the leading English poet of his time, responsible for introducing the irregular Pindaric Ode form which was later taken up by Dryden and others. Like Purcell, his talent was obvious at an early age, for his first poem was written when he was only ten years old. Cowley’s writing was much admired. Charles II said at his death “that Mr Cowley had not left a better man behind him in England”, and the poet was buried in Westminster Abbey. Purcell clearly enjoyed setting Cowley’s graphically descriptive, classical ode The Resurrection, and the result is a striking composition on that rare commodity in Purcell’s time – a first-rate piece of poetry. Purcell’s music alternates between sections of semi-recitative and arioso: everywhere word painting abounds.

Cowley’s first twelve lines are omitted. Purcell prefers to start with a commanding arpeggionic ‘Begin the song’, the classical lyre suitably illustrated. Moving quickly into an arioso section, the composer’s genius for setting words is immediately evident: the dance is wonderfully ‘smooth’, ‘long’ is exactly that, and ‘music’ comes in for special treatment. The mood changes for ‘all gentle notes’, altering just as quickly again for the ‘trumpet’s dreadful sound’, and the ‘universal string’ is graphically ‘untun’d’ in a descending chromatic scale. The music opens up for ‘All th’ harmonious worlds on high’, and ‘Virgil’s sacred work’ dies at the bottom of the singer’s register. The text becomes yet more colourful, and Purcell grandly illustrates ‘Thunder’s dismal noise’ and the hubbub created by ‘all that prophets and apostles louder spake’. The ‘long sluggards of five thousand years’ are as serpentine as one could imagine, and the ‘mightier sound’ increases in volume and length in its two repetitions to close the section. In more ordered triple metre the ‘scatter’d atoms’ reassemble themselves, descending and ascending from all quarters of the earth. Back in recitative their distress at their newly-imposed forms brings wonderful harmonic and melodic colours from Purcell after a suitably military trumpet call: phrases such as ‘unhappy most, like tortur’d men’ and ‘new wrack’d again’ are superbly enhanced. Even escape to the mountains is hopeless, for the mountains too ‘shake and run about’, their confusion pictured in the angular vocal line. The muse is commanded to stop, and the ‘Pindaric Pegasus’, an ‘unruly and hard-mouth’d horse’, is halted before further damage can be caused: the piece ends with the poet’s mount held just in control, though from the music we sense that beast is ready to be upset again at any moment and to fling ‘writer and reader too that sits not sure’.

from notes by Robert King ©

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