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Amidst the shades and cool refreshing streams, Z355

author of text

Purcell’s autograph of Amidst the shades is held in the British Museum and has been dated to 1683. It was also published in 1687 in the fourth book of The Theatre of Music and reappeared in 1695 in The New Treasury of Musick. In the eighteenth century it was much admired by Burney who called it (in his General History III of 1789) an ‘admirable piece of recitative, in a truly grand style’. Damon, the sad subject of the song – a stock pastoral figure who appears widely, as in Marvell’s ‘Damon the Mower’ – is so miserable in his unreciprocated love for Aminda that the birds, sorry for his plight, decide to try to cheer him up with their singing.

Burney’s admiration for Purcell’s setting is completely justified, for this is a glorious song, full of a wealth of detail and pictorialization. In the first phrase, the addition of a seventh on ‘cool’ elegantly colours the harmony, and is followed by an exquisite melodic line for ‘their panting hearts’. Damon’s grief rises chromatically, and the angular harmony of ‘His looks disturb’d’ brings just the right touch of anguish. The birds ‘tremble’ with a fluttering downward scale, and their murmuring builds from near silence, rising as their confidence grows. Their optimistic song begins in the tonic major and in a regular metre as they ‘stretch their warbling throats’, inviting Damon ‘to rejoice’. But their efforts are in vain, and melancholy (and the minor key of the opening) returns; nothing can his ‘sad soul inspire’, and his heart is so much ‘by grief oppress’d’ (depicted by a sudden fall to the lowest end of the voice) that a desolate sigh ‘breaks from his breast’ and frightens the ‘harmless birds And damps the cheerful choir’. The melisma on ‘cheerful’ which closes the song could not be more poignant.

from notes by Robert King © 2003


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


Track 11 on CDA66710 [3'37] Archive Service
Track 11 on CDS44161/3 CD1 [3'37] Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only

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