Raise, raise the Voice

An Ode

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Editor: with an Introduction by Peter Holman

for soprano (d'-g''), tenor (d'-g'), bass (G-d'), two violins and bc

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‘Raise, raise the voice’ is one of Henry Purcell’s most attractive smaller-scale concerted works, though it is something of a puzzle. It has conventionally been thought of as an ode of St Cecilia’s day, and appears in the Purcell’s Society edition in a volume entitled Three Odes for St. Cecilia’s Day. A copy made by Philip Hayes in the late eighteenth century (now at Tatton Park, Cheshire, MS. Vol. III) has the annotation ‘perform’d Nov[embe]r. 22. 1683’, implying that it had been part of the celebrations on St Cecilia’s day. However, we already have two odes by Purcell for that day: ‘Welcome to all the pleasures’ Z339 was written for the official celebrations, and there is also a smaller work, ‘Laudate Ceciliam’ Z329, which Purcell headed in the autograph score ‘A Latine Song made upon St Cecilia, whoes day is comme[mo]rated yearly by all Musitians[,] made in the year 1683’. 1683 seems to have been the first year of St Cecilia celebrations in London, and there is no obvious vacancy for an ode in the following years: in 1684, 1685, 1686 and 1687 they were set respectively by John Blow, William Turner, Isaac Blackwell and Giovanni Battista Draghi. Furthermore, the text of ‘Raise, raise the voice’ does not actually mention St Cecilia, and is just concerned with praising Apollo on ‘sacred Music’s holy day’.

It seems more likely that ‘Raise, raise the voice’ was written for some informal celebration at court, and that it belongs to the series of symphony songs written by Purcell in the early 1680s seemingly as part of his court duties. Like them, it seems to have been written for single voices and instruments: the tutti vocal sections are just for STB voices rather than the SATB chorus writing in ‘Welcome to all the pleasures’ and all of Purcell’s court odes, while the accompanying instrumental ensemble consists just of two violins and continuo – as in his symphony songs – rather than four-part strings. Furthermore, the work was copied in a sequence of symphony songs by Purcell and others in one of the two primary sources, British Library, Add. MS 33287, ff. 26v-30. The unidentified scribe, who was probably working at court in the middle of the 1680s, also copied the other primary source, British Library, MS RM 24.e.5, ff. 1-9v. The former has the last section missing, though the latter is complete, and all the other sources appear to be derived directly or indirectly from it; Purcell’s autograph is lost.

The text of ‘Raise, raise the voice’ is anonymous, though Franklin Zimmerman ascribed it (without revealing the source of his information) to the minor poet and musician Christopher Fishburn, the author of the text of ‘Welcome to all the pleasures’. Like most of those set by Purcell, it is undistinguished as literature, though it inspired him to produce one of his finest works of this sort. After a fine overture with an Italian-style fugue similar to the canzona sections in Purcell’s trio sonatas, it consists of two soprano solos framed by three tutti sections. The highlight is the second solo, ‘Mark, mark how readily each pliant string’, a ground bass movement that in which Purcell seems to be demonstrating how many harmonic twists and turns could be achieved over an unvaried four-bar bass. An attractive feature here (and elsewhere in the work) is the independent writing for the violins, gently echoing the voice as well as contributing an extended final ritornello. The resulting bright SSSTB textures in the tutti sections is distinctive, and an apt response to the lively tone of the text.. In earlier English odes the strings either double the voices or alternate with the voices, and Purcell’s more sophisticated approach in ‘Raise, raise the voice’ may have been inspired by Italian concerted music. In general, his music became steadily more Italianate during the 1680s, and this work is an important milestone. All in all, it looks as if it was written a year or two later than ‘Welcome to all the pleasures’ and ‘Laudate Ceciliam’, perhaps around 1685.


F. Zimmerman, Henry Purcell 1659-1695: an Analytical Catalogue of his Music (London, 1963).

H. Purcell, Three Odes for St. Cecilia’s Day, ed. B. Wood, The Works of Henry Purcell, 10 (London, 1990).

P. Holman, Henry Purcell (Oxford, 1994).

H. Purcell, Symphony Songs, ed. B. Wood, The Works of Henry Purcell, 27 (London, 2007).

© Copyright Peter Holman 2008