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After Purcell’s mournful opening section mourning the loss of Thirsis, full of characteristically inventive word-colouring (the high tessitura for ‘pride’ and ‘joy’, the discord on ‘envy’ and bittersweet harmonies for ‘gentle’) the text moves to nature and music. Purcell’s response is inspired. ‘What makes the spring retire’ is set over one of the finest ground basses in all Purcell’s songs, hypnotic in its bell-like theme and modulating deliciously at ‘Made the spring bloom’. The third section returns to languid semi-recitative, the melody and harmony desolately dropping as the author asks what the ‘drooping sons of art’ can do to ease the pain of this loss; as the soprano is joined by a bass singer the ‘dismal notes we mourn’ are even more lachrimose. Optimism finally arrives in a lilting triple time with the recognition that Farmer’s music is being taken ‘To the glad skies’, where the harmony with which he ‘charm’d the Earth’ now ‘Transports the Spheres’.
from notes by Robert King © 2003
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