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The Nymphs of the wells

composer
1697; commissioned for the eighth birthday celebrations of William, Duke of Gloucester
author of text

 
The Nymphs of the wells is a royal ode dating from 1697. It was written not for the court of William III but for that of Princess Anne and her husband, Prince George of Denmark, a much more modest establishment. Accordingly its scoring is suitably economical: just two violins, five voices and continuo. It was commissioned for the eighth birthday celebrations of their son, William, Duke of Gloucester, the only one of their children to survive beyond infancy, and second in line to the throne after his mother (the king being childless and widowed). Its anonymous text seeks to associate the lad with the British oak: a grotesquely inappropriate conceit, for he was a deformed and sickly child who was to die at the age of eleven, thereby dashing any hopes of a Stuart succession. Blow’s setting, in contrast, strikes exactly the right note: avoiding any hint of pomp, it is graceful and lyrical, only becoming a little more serious in tone for the bass solo during which that unsuitable image is conjured up. The solo is sung by a Druid, in response to duetting Nymphs who appear earlier; such dramatic characterization—here obviously playful—is unknown in other court odes. The young duke is not known to have been musical (somewhat pathetically in the circumstances, his main interests were military), but if he had been, he would surely have taken pleasure in the well judged and beautifully crafted music of this birthday offering.

from notes by Bruce Wood © 2017

Recordings

Blow: An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell & other works
Studio Master: CDA68149Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Part 1: The Nymphs of the wells, and the Nymphs of the hills
Track 19 on CDA68149 [2'46]
Part 2: But here comes a Druid and we must retire –
Track 20 on CDA68149 [2'09]
Part 3: Blest be this morn, blest be the hand –
Track 21 on CDA68149 [4'12]
Part 4: We Nymphs of the founts and we of the mounts
Track 22 on CDA68149 [1'20]

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