John Blow (1649-1728)

John Blow has been described as “the doyen of the school of English musicians of which Henry Purcell was the most brilliant.”(1)

While Blow is chiefly famous for his operatic masque Venus and Adonis, and for his many church anthems, he wrote well over 100 secular songs, duets and trios, with and without instrumental settings; many of them appeared in Amphion Anglicus, published by Henry Playford in 1700. Others had previously been published in song collections like The Theater of Music, a substantial collection of songs by many contemporary composers, published in four volumes over the period 1685 – 1687 by Henry Playford and Robert Carr.

It has been said of John Blow that “during his lifetime his renown approached that of Purcell …..his position as the most important composer among Purcell’s contemporaries is unquestionable; his true stature approaches that of Purcell himself more closely than has been generally acknowledged.”(2)

As Peter Holman has pointed out, “2008, the 300th anniversary of the death of John Blow, is a good moment to reassess the music of an important English composer.” (3)

(1)Shaw, Watkins: ‘Blow, John’ in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London, 1980.
(2) Wood, Bruce: ‘Blow, John, §3: Works’ Grove Music Online (Accessed 16 February 2008)
(3) Holman, Peter: John Blow 1649-1708, in NEMA, The Early Music Yearbook 2008, Ruxbury Publications, Hebden Bridge, 2008

Blo 1

Two Duets with Violins

for soprano (d'-g''), bass(D-e'), two violins and continuo

Price: £ 7.50

Septimius and Acme
Go Perjur’d Man

These two duets appear in Amphion Anglicus, i (1700). The first, Septimius and Acme, has two verses, each with a brief instrumental introduction, for the voices, with little or no participation by the violins. These are each followed by a lively chorus in triple time with the violins providing a rich harmonic texture. The subject is pastoral love, optimistic and lyrical. The second song, Go Perjur’d Man, is in two parts each with repeats, and written full throughout. The tone is of bitter recrimination, and the music matches this with energetic and dissonant writing.

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Blo 2

Septimnius and Acme

from The Theater of Music, 1685

for two sopranos (d'-g''), bass (D-e'), two violins & bc

Price: £ 7.50

This duet is taken from vol.1 of The Theatre of Music in 1685. It is therfore an earlier version of the duet from Amphion Anglicus - see Blo 1 above. Unlike the later version, the present piece is is set for three singers, while still being termed a dialogue. It starts with a Symphony in three sections, and like its revision, consists of two verses for two voices. Each of these is followed by a chorus, which in this piece uses three voices. The second verse is also followed by a brief ritornello. The setting of this pastoral piece is similar to that of the later work.

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Blo 3

Poor Celadon (Loving above Himself)

for alto/countertenor (g-b'), two violins and continuo

Price: £ 5.00

This song is taken from Amphion Anglicus. It admirably shows Blows characteristics of harmonic daring, and beautiful writing for the voice.

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Blo 4

And is my Cavalier return'd?

for soprano (d'-b''), two recorders and continuo

Price: £ 6.00

The present piece, And is my Cavalier return'd? (which has the heading A SONG with FLUTES), is among those many songs in Amphion Anglicus, and is unusual in having recorders as the obbligato instruments. It is possible that they were intended to remind the listener of the military sound of fifes.

To speculate on which campaign the 'Cavalier' is due to return from, brings a salutary reminder of the politically troubled times that Blow lived in. Had Myrtilla's beau been slogging it out in Ulster in July 1690 against James II’s rebel army, or perhaps in Flanders' field in the summer of 1691 against the French? The reference to 'barbarous Sun and Dust' is a reminder that planned campaigns usually took place in summer.

After a brief instrumental introduction the voice and recorders alternate in a sort of dialogue.

After voice and instruments have portrayed Myrtilla's trembling, the war is suggested in clarion like arpeggios and trumpet calls, before a fmal rhythmic passage for voice alone as Myrtilla entices her beloved to winter with her.

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Blo 5

Sing, sing ye Muses (Epilogue to Amphion Anglicus, 1700)

for SATB, two violins and continuo

Price: £ 7.50

The present work, Sing, sing ye Muses, is the last to appear in this volume and is given the title  ‘EPILOGUE./ A Song for Four Voices and Two VIOLINS, at an Entertain-/ment of MUSICK in York  Builldings.’ The York buildings had been a favourite venue for recitals and concerts since the 1680’s. It was here that Jeremiah Clarke’s ‘new pastoral ode on the Peace’ was sung in 1697, Gottfried Finger and Giovanni Draghi gave concerts from 1693, and Robert King(4) with John Banister promoted a series from about 1698.

This song starts and finishes with sections for concerted voices and instruments, separated by a brief section for a trio of voices with continuo. A concluding passage marked ‘Slow’ solemnly states the ‘moral’: “Do you but Please the Fair and your Banquit is Crown’d”.

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