Two Songs on a ground

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

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

Ref. no Pur 17 (in 'cantatas')           sample page      cover page      To order:     

  • 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.