The five-part full anthem Remember not, Lord, our offences (dating from around 1680) is a masterpiece. Purcell’s use of harmony and discord, his startlingly effective word-setting and his mastery of drama are all magnificently demonstrated in a short piece. The atmosphere is created with the very first word, set as a simple block chord, and then reiterated as the phrase moves forward to ‘offences’: the first phrase of text is repeated again, still in homophonic style, but this time in the relative major. The first touches of counterpoint appear at ‘nor th’ offences of our forefathers’, and the tension begins to increase with ‘neither take thou vengeance of our sins’, always simultaneously countered in at least one voice with the rising phrase ‘but spare us, good Lord’. Gradually the calls for mercy, to ‘spare us’, begin to dominate, and the chromaticism and unbelievably daring use of discord increases: the music climaxes with a massive, desperate plea, ‘Spare us, good Lord’. Quickly the mood returns to supplication: Purcell’s harmony relaxes deliciously onto ‘redeem’d’ and the tenors’ dominant seventh clashes exquisitely with a second inversion chord on ‘precious’. It is the tenors again who have a wonderfully subtle inner line at ‘for ever’ and, after such passion, the anthem ends, as it began, with a calm prayer for salvation.
from notes by Robert King ©