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Eheu! quam diris hominis

author of text

The text for Eheu! quam diris hominis was written by Herman Boerhaave. The relationship between composer and librettist is particularly evoked in these words, which describes death as the only true release from physical suffering. Clerk responded feelingly to a text which had obvious bearing on his own sufferings, particularly the recurrence of smallpox shortly after his arrival in Rome. Boerhaave had failed to cure him, despite high hopes for a new treatment he had developed, and Clerk (without companion or servant) was nursed through his illness by the ladies of the Society of the Tour di Spechio.

Boerhaave wrote to Clerk about the text, describing the emphasis he had given to I, E and S as sounds suitable for lamentation, drawing attention to the rhythm and metre, and stating that in the first two sections the mood of mourning dominates, in the third a sense of hope emerges, the fourth being joyful and the fifth, devout and exultant. Clerk has respected these observations. The opening Adagio and Aria are full of intensity, with sighing repeated notes and dissonant harmonic suspensions, the voice declaiming in broken phrases.

For the second half Clerk changes the key to the relative major and the bass line becomes cheerfully active, the vocal line gently florid; but this is dancing on the edge of the grave. The final Allegro is a dark little jig in the minor key advising us to leave the earth with joyful singing.

from notes by John Purser © 1998


Clerk: The Lion of Scotland


Track 5 on CDA67007 [10'36]

Track-specific metadata for CDA67007 track 5

Recording date
21 May 1994
Recording venue
St Andrew's Church, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
David McGuinness & Martin Dalby
Recording engineer
James Hunter
Hyperion usage
  1. Clerk: The Lion of Scotland (CDA67007)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: April 1998
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