Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

The collection of songs by Henry Purcell entitled Orpheus Britannicus is in two volumes, published in 1698 and 1702 respectively. These include solo songs, duets and dialogues, and some songs for 3 voices. The publisher, Henry Playford, describes the two volumes as 'A/Collection/of all/the Choicest SONGS/for/One, Two and Three Voices/ Compos'd /By Mr. Henry Purcell'. None of the songs are long pieces; many were originally written for the stage, either as operatic songs or incidental music to a play, and so most of them had been published previously. Orpheus must have enjoyed moderately successful sales. The first volume ran to a second edition in 1702, and the second in 1711: both were reprinted in 1721. Frances Purcell, in dedicating the first volume to Lady Howard, pays tribute to Sir Robert Howard, "whose Excellent Compositions were the Subject of his [Purcell's] last and best Performance in Musick." Robert Howard was co-author with John Dryden of The Indian Queen, performed in the year of Purcell's death.


Pur 1

Four Dialogues - I

from Orpheus Britannicus

for soprano (f'-a''),  bass (F-e') and bc

Price: £ 6.50

Why my Daphne, why complaining? (Z.525)
Fair Iris and her Swain (Z.572)

Like many of the songs in Orpheus Britannicus, three of these dialogues were originally written for the stage and published along with the incidental music. The first, Why my Daphne, why complaining, not associated with a play, was probably intended for domestic entertainment, and was published separately in 1691. With the second, Fair Iris and her Swain, it represents a simpler, earlier style than the other two.

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Pur 2

Four Dialogues - II

from Orpheus Britannicus

for soprano (d'-a''), bass (G-g') and bc

Price: £ 7.50

Since Times are so bad (Z.578 II)
Tell me why my Charming Fair (Z.627)

Since Times are so bad appears in Don Quixote, and is an amusing social commentary on court and city life. Tell me why, my Charming Fair is taken from the Act V Masque in Dioclesian. These are both more substantial pieces than the first two, and represent a more developed, sophisticated style.

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Pur 3

In all our Cinthia's shining Sphear

A Dialogue

for soprano (d'-f''#), bass (A-d') and bc

Price: £ 5.90

In all our Cinthia’s shining Sphear is a charming and witty dialogue which appears in the 1706 print of the first book of Orpheus Britannicus.

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Pur 5

Four Duets

from Orpheus Britannicus

for soprano (c'-b''flat), bass (G-e'flat) and bc

Price: £ 6.50

For love ev'ry creature
When Myra Sings (Z.521)
Leave these useless Arts (Z.579)
Come, let us leave the Town (Z.629)

These beautifully written pieces represent quite a challenge technically. The first appears only in Orpheus Britannicus, which was published posthumously for the support of Purcell's widow Frances. The others are to be found among Purcell's music for the theatre.

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Pur 6

Two Songs with Flutes

from Orpheus Britannicus

for soprano (d'-a''flat), bass (Bflat-f'), two recorders and bc

Price: £ 9.50

Soft Notes, and gently rais'd (Z.510)
How pleasant is this flow'ry Plain and Grove (Z.543)

The first of these 'Symphony Songs' is a soprano air with an overture and ritornello for two recorders and continuo, and the second has airs for both soprano and baritone with an overture and ritornello for recorders. Both finish with a chorus for instruments with voices.'Soft Notes' is, as it is called, a serenading song; that is a song of seduction. 'How pleasant' presents the ideal of the pastoral life far from the stresses of city and court life. The charm of the melodies is matched by the superb writing for the recorders.

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Pur 7

Three Songs with Hautboys

from Orpheus Britannicus

for voice, two oboes and continuo

Price: £ 8.70

Seek not to know what must not be reveal'd. (Z.630)
Hence with your trifling Deity. (Z.632)
Wond'rous Machine. (Z.328)

Seek not to know what must not be reveal'd (Z.630)is the magician Ismeron’s song from the Indian Queen. It follows a petition from the love-lorn Zempoalla to know what the future holds for her. Ismeron is obviously effective as a magician, and knows that hers was to be a tragic end; Peter Holman suggests that through him the God of Dreams is trying to give a diplomatic answer rather than tell her the bad news. The voice part, although written in the G2 clef, and intended for a tenor is manageable by a baritone. Hence with your trifling Deity (Z.632) comes from the Masque of Cupid and Bacchus in Timon of Athens, Thomas Shadwell’s play, which was revived in 1694. It obviously belongs to one of the Bacchus party, and tellingly disparages the effects of love. We are not in the presence of great music here, but it has strength and energy, and is fun to sing and play. Wond'rous Machine (Z.328) which extols the organ, supposedly invented by St Cecilia, comes from one of Purcell’s finest works; the Ode for St Cecilias Day 1692. It is a wonderful example of a composition on a ground bass, a form used many times to such memorable effect by Purcell.

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Pur 9

In Guilty Night (Z.134)

Saul and the Witch of Endor

for soprano (f'-a''flat), tenor (f-a'flat), and bass (G-a'flat) solos, and bc

Price: £ 6.90

This dramatic work, described as a Paraphrase when it was published by Henry Playford, is based on the biblical story of the ghost of Samuel being raised by the witch at the behest of the king, Saul. The desperate king, sung by the tenor, comes to the Witch (soprano) by night and in disguise. Overcoming her misgivings, he gets her to summon up the ghost of the prophet Samuel to foretell his fate. Samuel, sung by the bass, appears from the nether regions, to prophesy in doom-laden terms. Purcell exploits the drama to the full: the scene is set by the sombre opening chorus; the exchanges between the characters are full of tension and suspense; and it finishes with a chorus where, as Peter Holman writes, "Purcell picked out the word ‘farewell’, with the singers in character to the end, the witch and the ghost icily dismissing the shattered king, who can only sob in semitone slides over descending passacaglia-like harmonies. Once heard, these wonderful yet horrifying 10 bars can never be forgotten".   This story has been the inspiration for a number of composers both before and after Purcell. These include Schütz (Saul, Saul was verfolgst du mich?, 1650) and Charpentier (the prologue to the opera David et Jonathas, 1688), as well as Robert Ramsey (In guilty Night, c1628).

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Pur 10

O,O let me Weep!

from Orpheus Britannicus

for soprano (d'-g''), oboe (or recorder) and bc

Price: £ 5.00

The Plaint O, O, let me Weep! is part of the masque in Act V of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, where Juno appears and sings first the Epithalamium Thrice happy lovers, and then The Plaint. The main source for this song is Orpheus Britannicus.  Peter Holman suggests that the quality and the range of the obbligato instrument suggest a recorder, rather than the violin indicated: if this were so it would be the only instance in Purcell’s works of his writing for a single recorder.  Clifford Bartlett in his edition of the Fairy Queen suggests violin or oboe as the appropriate instrument.  Accordingly, the piece is presented here as a song with oboe obbligato, which recorder players may also like to add to their repertoire.

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Pur 11

The Four SEASONS in the Fairy Queen

from Orpheus Britannicus

for two sopranos (e'-a''), tenor (e-g') and bass (A-e') solos, strings and bc

Price: £ 7.90

The Four Seasons are part of the masque in Act IV of Purcell's The Fairy Queen, given to celebrate Oberon's birthday. After a symphony, Phoebus appears, who as the rising Sun gives "Life Warmth and Vigour to all". Phoebus is acknowledged by the chorus - "Hail great Parent of us all". Each of the Four Seasons then makes their characteristic offering to him; Spring skippingly, Summer with a May- day dance, Autumn with reflective counterpoint, and finally Winter with his prayer for warmth in music of surpassing poignancy.

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Pur 12

Songs for bass solo

from Orpheus Britannicus

for bass (D-g') and bc

Price: £ 6.90

Let the dreadfull Engines
You twice ten hundred Deities
Bacchus is a pow'r divine

The first two songs of this edition both appear in stage works; Let the dreadfull engines is sung by Cardenio in The Comical History of Don Quixote, i, and You twice ten hundred Deities belongs to Ismeron in The Indian Queen. The third song Bacchus is a Pow'r Divine is claimed by Henry Playford to be published for the first time in Orpheus Britannicus. Let the dreadfull engines is a mad song, Cardenio appearing 'in Ragged Cloaths, and in a Wild Posture' , his 'deranged mental state induced by the faithlessness of his beloved. Performers do not always appreciate that this famous song is a comic exploration of madness, but Purcell made the point unmistakably with ludicrous juxtapositions of declamatory passages in the grand manner and folk-like ballad tunes'. Ismeron's song comes as a response to the love-sick queen Zempoalla's demand that he summon up the God of Dreams to foretell her fate. This '….is the most awe-inspiring of Purcell's conjuring tricks.' In turn, the magician sings an invocation to the god, a series of expressive incantations of charms, and a climactic rising chromatic sequence, as the sleeping god arises. The song finishes paradoxically with a lullaby passage in triple time. Bacchus is a Pow'r Divine is, as its title might suggest, a drinking song. Nevertheless Purcell raises the song above the unworthiness of its text (and subject!) with the ingenuity of his word-painting. (The quotations are taken from Peter Holman's book Henry Purcell, Oxford, OUP (1994) p 215, quoting Curtis Price: Henry Purcell, p212-213

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Pur 14

See where she sits

A Symphony Song

for soprano (d'-a''flat), bass (F-e'flat), two violins and bc

Price: £ 6.90

Purcell wrote a number of symphony songs for voices with various instruments. Two of them are detailed above - see Pur 6. The present work, ‘See where she sits’ is based on words by Abraham Cowley (1618-1667). (as is ‘How pleasant is this flow’ry Plain and Grove’ - Pur 6).

The setting of the second stanza for soprano solo has a more lyrical feeling than the other three, and is preceded by a symphony for the violins which sets the mood. The first, third and fourth stanzas with their more ironic tone, are given a lively contrapuntal treatment, with much chromaticism, producing passages that are remarkable for their degree of dissonance.

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Pur 15

Raise, raise the Voice

An Ode

with an Introduction by Peter Holman

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

Price: £ 7.90

‘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.

References:
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

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Pur 17

Two Songs on a ground

Each of these songs is presented in versions for high voice and for low voice.

O solitude has range (c'-g'') for high and (a-e''flat) for low voice

What a sad Fate has range (g'-a''flat) for high and (e'-f'') for low voice

Price: £ 7.40

O Solitude my sweetest Choice (Z.406) 
What a sad Fate is mine (Z.428)

O Solitude, my sweetest Choice’ Z406 is one of Henry Purcell’s greatest songs, using a ground bass also found in the symphony to his verse anthem ‘In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust’ Z16. The song is a setting of extracts from an extended poem by ‘matchless Orinda’, the female poet Katherine Philips (1632-1664), taken from her posthumous Poems (London, 1667). As its title ‘La Solitude de St. Amant Englished’ indicates, it is a translation of a poem by Antoine Girard, sieur de Saint-Amant (1594-1661). Purcell’s setting consists of verse 1, part of verse 3 and verse 20 of the poem, and is found in his autograph scorebook, British Library, R.M. 20.h.8, ff. 174-3v INV.

In this source the song is in C minor, for soprano or tenor. However, in British Library, Add. MS 33235, ff. 145-6 it is written out a third lower in A minor, evidently for countertenor or bass. It makes a notable addition to the small number of Purcell songs suitable for low voices.

We have another example of a ground-bass song by Purcell surviving in the same two keys: ‘What a sad fate is mine’ Z428 was published in the first volume of Orpheus Britannicus in C minor but was copied by Purcell in A minor in the Gresham songbook, London, Guildhall Library, MS Safe 3.

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Pur 18-2

Circe (Z 575)

Music for Act I, Scene IV

with an introduction by Peter Holman 

Chorus Score

Price: £ 2.50
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DQ-S

The Songs in the Three Plays of Don Quixote

by Thomas Durfey

Price: £ 14.40

Twenty-five Songs in Score by Purcell, Eccles and others

This edition is the outcome of preparing performing material for the New London Consort’s2009production of Don Quixote, which includes most of the songs, and a reconstruction of the dance movements by Peter Holman. I am grateful for Philip Pickett’s inspiration and assistance.

The main source for the songs is T. D’Urfey’s ‘The Songs to the New Play of Don Quixote.’ The songs for Parts 1 and 2 of the play were published in 1694. They were followed in 1696 by those for the third part, entitled ‘New Songs in the Third Part of the Comical History of Don Quixote’. These printed volumes contain all the songs needed for the play save two: the anonymous ‘With my strings of small wire’ and Purcell’s ‘Lads and Lasses blith and gay’. These have been sourced respectively in the contemporary song-books Wit and Mirth, or, Pills to Purge Melancholy’, Third edition, Vol. iii, 1707, and Thesaurus Musicus, Book III, 1695. The settings of two of the songs also printed in Orpheus Britannicus  i, 1698, have been preferred over those in the Don Quixote volumes: these are Cardenio’s song ‘Let the dreadfull Engines’ which has more complete figuration, and Altisidora’s song ‘From Rosie Bow’rs’ which is more consistent.

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DQ-P

The Songs in the Three Plays of Don Quixote

by Thomas Durfey

Price: £ 8.70

Parts for obbligato and continuo instruments

Pur 18-1

Circe (Z 575)

Music for Act I, Scene IV

with an introduction by Peter Holman

Full Score and set of parts

for S,A,T,B, soloists, SATB chorus, strings and continuo

Price: £ 9.40

Purcell's music for Circe is one of a number of operatic scenes set by him in what were otherwise conventional plays. This scene calls for three solo male priests (alto or high tenor, tenor and bass), two of Circe's women (soprano and alto), SATB choir which sings four choruses, with four-part strings and continuo.

In it Iphigenia, Priestess of Diana, has attracted the rival loves of King Thoas and Prince Ithacus (the son of Circe by a former marriage). Circe is furious and determines to summon up sprits to foretell the future....

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