“Hundreds of music lovers ... who were lucky enough to hear it won’t soon forget the thrilling, at times moving, concert.”
Channing Gray
The Providence Journal

5 March 2012
(Britten War Requiem)


Henry Purcell (1659-95)
Considered to be the father of English Baroque style, Purcell’s first known work was an Ode for the King’s Birthday, composed when he was 11 years old.

Henry Purcell

Come Ye Sons of Art  (Z.323, 1694)

“Poetry and painting have arrived to their perfection in our own country; music is yet but in its nonage, a forward Child, which gives hope of what it may be hereafter in England, when the masters of it shall find more Encouragement.”

— Henry Purcell

“Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded.”

— Epitaph, Westminster Abbey

Henry Purcell casts a long and admirable shadow over British music. Elements of his late-17th century compositions appear in the work of Benjamin Britten in the late-20th, for example, as well as in film scores — significantly as the Moog-synthesized title theme in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. He is generally considered, with Elgar, Vaughan Williams and a few others, to be among the greatest British-born composers, a list that sidesteps the German-born G.F. Handel, a naturalized British subject.

Purcell, son of a musician trained in the Chapel Royal, was a boy chorister there. When his voice changed, he was appointed an assistant to the Keeper of the King’s Instruments, later responsible for tuning the organ and copying music at Westminster Abbey. In rapid succession, he was appointed composer for the king’s string orchestra (1677), organist at Westminster Abbey (succeeding his teacher John Blow in 1679), and one of three organists of the Chapel Royal (1682). He maintained all those appointments throughout his life.

Purcell performed and composed music for a wide range of venues, from fantasias and anthems for church use, to odes and official music for the court, to a variety of work for the popular stage. Because London did not yet have a public opera as it would in Handel’s day, music for the theater was mostly a matter of songs inserted at different points in the spoken performance. Dido and Aeneas, among his best-known works for the stage, made music an integral part of the performance, directly advancing the story.

Among his duties as Charles II’s favorite court composer was the composition of occasional music to celebrate birthdays, weddings, feast days, points of history, and the return of royalty or nobility from travels or distant residences. His surviving odes include five welcomes for Charles II, four for St. Cecilia’s day, and six for the birthday of Queen Mary. Come Ye Sons of Art (April 1694) was the last of the six (the queen died in December that year) and the most extensive, with a text written by Nahum Tate, England’s poet laureate, who also wrote the libretto for Dido and Aeneas.

Purcell provided a fascinating entertainment for the queen. The ode begins with an instrumental movement that sets a festive mood with trumpet and oboe (the “sprightly Hautboy” of the third movement). Purcell then varies the performing combinations — chorus, solo, duet, duet with chorus — and builds toward a final celebratory movement that draws on all performers: “Thus Nature, rejoicing, has shown us the way, with innocent revels to welcome the day.” Come Ye Sons of Art is among Purcell’s best-known works.

Come Ye Sons of Art (A Birthday Ode for Queen Mary)
Text by Nahum Tate (1652–1715), poet laureate of the Kingdom of England, appointed in 1692.

I. Sinfonia

II. Ritornello (countertenor solo and chorus)
Come, ye Sons of Art, come away,
Tune all your voices and instruments play
To celebrate this triumphant day.

III. Duet (countertenors)
Sound the trumpet till around
You make the listening shores rebound.
On the sprightly Hautboy play.
All the instruments of joy
That skilful numbers can employ
To celebrate the glory of this day.

IV. Ritornello (chorus)
Come, ye Sons of Art, come away,
Tune all your voices and instruments play
To celebrate this triumphant day.

V. Ritornello (countertenor solo)
Strike the Viol, touch the Lute;
Wake the Harp, inspire the Flute:
Sing your Patronesse’s Praise,
Sing, in cheerful and harmonious Lays.

VI. Solo and Chorus (bass)
The day that such a blessing gave
No common festival should be.
What it justly seem’d to crave,
Grant, o grant, and let it have
The honour of a Jubilee.

VII. Aria (soprano)
Bid the Virtues, bid the Graces
To the sacred shrine repair,
Round the altar take their places,
Blessing with returns of pray'r
Their great Defender’s care
While Maria’s royal zeal
Best instructs you how to pray
Hourly from her own
Conversing with th’ Eternal Throne.

VIII. Aria (bass)
These are the sacred charms that shield
Her daring hero in the field;
Thus she supports his righteous cause,
Thus to aid his immortal pow'r she draws.

IX. Duet and Chorus (soprano and bass)
See Nature, rejoicing, has shown us the way,
With innocent revels to welcome the day.
The tuneful grove, and talking rill,
The laughing vale, the replying hill,
With charming harmony unite,
The happy season to invite.

What the Graces require,
And the Muses inspire,
Is at once our delight and our duty to pay.
Thus Nature, rejoicing, has shown us the way,
With innocent revels to welcome the day.