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Young Thirsis' fate, Z473

on the death of Thomas Farmer
author of text
possibly by Nahum Tate

On the death of the composer and violinist Thomas Farmer in late 1688, apparently at an early age, Purcell set the affectionate ‘Elegy upon the Death of Mr. Thomas Farmer, B.M.’. The text may have been by Nahum Tate. Publication of Farmer’s Consort of Musick was announced in the London Gazette for 28 October; the advertisement mentions an ‘Elegy to the Author’, whose composer was confirmed as Purcell in an advertisement (in the same issue of the Gazette) for the fourth book of The Banquet of Musick. No copy of Farmer’s volume has yet been traced, but the British Museum’s Egerton Manuscript (MS 2960) may well have been copied from it, and seems to be earlier than the version contained in the 1706 edition of Orpheus Britannicus. Thirsis was a stock pastoral figure whose name most famously occurs as the title of the first Bucolic by Theocritus, the Greek poet of the third century bc whose work was much imitated.

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


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


Track 29 on CDA66730 [5'49] Archive Service
Track 29 on CDS44161/3 CD3 [5'49] Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only

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