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If pray'rs and tears, Z380

February 1685
author of text

King Charles II died on 6 February 1685, much lamented by his subjects and by his royal musicians to whom he had, despite irregular and appallingly late salary payments, been an employer who had genuinely supported the arts. With his death there was considerable uncertainty in the kingdom, for King James was a staunch Catholic; not only would religion be affected, but the whole European political picture stood to change. The author of the ‘Sighs for our late sovereign King Charles the Second’ is unknown, but Purcell’s fine setting was presumably written fairly shortly after Charles’s death. It was copied into the ‘Royal’ manuscript now in the British Library (MS 20.h.8) and later published in the first volume of Orpheus Britannicus (1698).

Purcell’s setting falls into five sections. The first is an extended section of semi-recitative, dramatic in its mournful sentiments, and influenced in its colourful harmonic language by the music of the recently deceased Matthew Locke. Word-painting abounds, with imaginative melodic lines for ‘We had not fall’n, we had not sunk so low’; the ‘grievous heavy weight’ can barely lift itself up the chromatic scale, ‘sad’ is desolately back-dotted and the line for ‘trembling’ uncertainly undulates, the rivers of tears graphically swell and increase into a flood, the heavens wonderfully ‘roll’d the cloud away’, but the most remarkable moment is the extraordinary melisma for ‘sorrows’ which could only have come from Purcell’s pen. At ‘The waters then abated’ Purcell introduces a gentle triple-time arioso, but recitative returns for ‘Lord save our King!’, with another notable melodic illustration for ‘ev’ry broken heart’. ‘Albion is now become a holy land’ is set as a gentle triple-time arioso and for the final section, ‘Numbers of old’, Purcell turns back to recitative, building the tension to a list of some of the ‘former crimes’ of Charles’s reign: ‘Treasons, rebellions, perjuries’ and ‘all the iniquities of the times’. The final phrase is calm in its desolation as the music poignantly pictures the falling crown of England.

from notes by Robert King © 2003


Purcell: Secular solo songs, Vol. 3
CDA66730Archive Service
Purcell: The complete secular solo songs
CDS44161/3Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only


Track 18 on CDA66730 [7'36] Archive Service
Track 18 on CDS44161/3 CD3 [7'36] Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only

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