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Love, thou can'st hear, tho' thou art blind, Z396

Deliciae Musicae, 1695
author of text

Purcell’s setting of Sir Robert Howard’s poem ‘Love, thou can’st hear’ appeared in Deliciae Musicae (1695) and then in two early eighteenth-century manuscripts, one now in the British Museum (24.e.5) and another dating from 1721 in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. (1634.4). Purcell gave Howard’s daughter music lessons. In Horace, Odes III, xv the poet advises Cloris, now grown old, to abandon her promiscuous and profligate behaviour. Howard’s poem supposes a younger Cloris, whom we must presume from Horace once to have been devastatingly attractive and incorrigibly flirtatious. The poet, addressing Cupid, complains that Cloris is unfaithful, and asks – commenting that though Love may be blind, he is not deaf too – to help rid him of his burden. The repeated, rising calls of ‘oh! pity me’ are especially appealing, and contain two wonderful melismas. In the second section the singer complains that Cloris is totally unreliable, offering her favours to any and everyone: he comments that as the sun’s light falls everywhere, so Cloris ‘vainly loves to shine on all’.

Purcell’s delightful response is a musical oxymoron as he presses a splendid, three-bar ground bass, regular in its inexorable constancy, on a text which states exactly the opposite – that she is ‘inconstant’. Purcell’s skill at handling a ground bass is constantly remarked upon: here the harmonic variety he achieves over a phrase which appears, on paper, to be so clearly in C minor, is remarkable, pushing phrases briefly in marvellously outlandish directions. His harmonic inventiveness must have brought a smile to seventeenth-century continuo players, for Purcell demands the introduction of chords which would not have been out of place two centuries later. In the third section a lyrical triple metre is reintroduced: our lover complains that he had thought Cloris to be white ‘like new fall’n snow’, but subsequently discovered that, when the heat increased, she turned out to be a far grubbier (‘sullied’) colour underneath! The fourth section is a repeat of the first three lines of text with the same music as the opening, complete with the two glorious melismas as he repeats his call that Love ‘pity me’. In the final section our lover’s resolve strengthens. In a flurry of furious semiquavers he determines that he will cleanse ‘This fury from my breast’, summoning ‘scorn, revenge and pride’ to help him. The tension builds towards the last bars and a sudden change of tempo: all this anger will ‘At least her image to deface’ and the poet will be freed of his infatuation.

from notes by Robert King © 2003


Purcell: Music for a while & other songs
CDA66070Archive Service
Purcell: Secular solo songs, Vol. 1
CDA66710Archive Service
Purcell: The complete secular solo songs
CDS44161/3Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only


Track 10 on CDA66070 [5'54] Archive Service
Track 3 on CDA66710 [5'17] Archive Service
Track 3 on CDS44161/3 CD1 [5'17] Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only

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