Songs for bass solo

from Orpheus Britannicus

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

for bass (D-g') and bc

Ref. no Pur 12 (in 'cantatas')           sample page      cover page      To order:     

  • 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