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This poet sings the Trojan wars 'Anacreon's Defeat', Z423

The Banquet of Musick, 1688
author of text

Only two of Purcell’s solo secular songs are for solo bass singer. This poet sings the Trojan wars, subtitled ‘Anacreon’s Defeat’, appears in Purcell’s autograph score held in the British Museum and was first published in 1688 in The Banquet of Musick. Anacreon was born in Teos in the early sixth century BC and wrote lyric poetry notable for its gaiety, wit and avoidance of serious subjects. He died at a great age when a grapestone caught in his throat. His poems first appeared in a printed edition in Paris in 1554 and were much translated and imitated in mid- and late-seventeenth-century England, particularly in the wake of versions by Abraham Cowley. The version Purcell sets is a fairly close copy of the fifteenth-century Paris text; in another translation of the same period it acquired the title ‘My Fate’. The ‘poet who sang the Trojan wars’ was Homer, in The Iliad. Another epic of the Homeric period, The Thebais, now lost, had as its subject the Theban wars.

The ‘Theban jars’ which the lively, dotted opening mentions, are the wars of Thebes, and the ‘rattling numbers’, which Purcell sets to a lively, dotted roulade that rises rhythmically up the vocal scale, refer to classical poetic metre. ‘Whilst I, in soft and humble verse’ is a contrast in metre, key and style, lyrical and somewhat regretful; this particular defeat of Anacreon, as we later learn, was not a military one. The third section returns to a blustering, military style as we learn that it is not ‘fleets at sea’, nor ‘ranks and files of infantry’ that have vanquished the poet, and Purcell provides further characterization for the confident warrior by adding repeated cries of ‘No, no, no, no’. Only in the last bars, as the tempo and style radically change, do we hear that it is not even ‘All your artillery companies’ that have caused defeat; it is those ‘encamp’d in killing eyes’ (that is, the looks – and worse – of ladies). The overt sexual overtones of the last line (‘Each dart his mistress shoots, he dies’) require no explanation!

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 14 on CDA66710 [4'06] Archive Service
Track 14 on CDS44161/3 CD1 [4'06] Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only

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