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An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell

First line:
Mark how the Lark and Linnet Sing
composer
author of text

 
After Purcell’s death at the age of only thirty-six, several leading musicians were moved to compose odes in tribute to him. The grandest, laid out for soloists, chorus and full orchestra, is by Clarke, but incomparably the finest is Blow’s Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell ‘Mark how the lark and linnet sing’, modestly scored for two ‘countertenors’ (who in the period were simply light tenors, singing almost entirely with the full voice and slipping into falsetto only for the very highest notes), two recorders (instruments closely associated with mourning), and continuo. Blow’s music rises to the same lofty heights as its superb elegiac poem, by John Dryden, the greatest poet of the age and another close associate of Purcell’s. (Dryden nevertheless made one mis-step, describing Purcell as ‘the god-like man’; hearing his former pupil and lifelong friend deified evidently stuck in Blow’s craw, for he substituted what turned out to be the best known verbal phrase in the work: ‘the matchless man’.) The music is expansive, and compelling in its structural logic. It opens with a majestic duet in two movements (sombre common time, followed by triple), both with recorders. Next comes an extended solo in three movements, the first of them without recorders and focusing the hearer’s attention on declamatory vocal writing that is as eloquent as Purcell’s best. The ode ends with another two-movement duet (again first in common time, then triple). Both duets display all Blow’s formidable command of counterpoint, while the solo writing is consistently expressive in the highest degree. Indeed, the work is not merely one of his finest—and very obviously heartfelt—but one of the most outstanding musical achievements of its entire period.

from notes by Bruce Wood © 2017

Recordings

Blow: An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell & other works
Studio Master: CDA68149NEWStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Purcell & Blow: Countertenor duets
CDH55447
Odes on the death of Henry Purcell
CDA66578Archive Service

Details

Track 10 on CDH55447 [22'05]
Track 8 on CDA66578 [20'06] Archive Service
Part 1: Mark how the lark and linnet sing –
Track 11 on CDA68149 [3'38] NEW
Part 2: But in the close of night –
Track 12 on CDA68149 [3'54] NEW
Part 3: So ceas'd the rival crew when Purcell came –
Track 13 on CDA68149 [2'43] NEW
Part 4: We beg not hell our Orpheus to restore –
Track 14 on CDA68149 [1'55] NEW
Part 5: The power of harmony too well they know
Track 15 on CDA68149 [2'35] NEW
Part 6: The heavenly choir, who heard his notes from high –
Track 16 on CDA68149 [3'03] NEW
Part 7: Ye brethren of the lyre, and tuneful voice
Track 17 on CDA68149 [2'02] NEW

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