Henry Purcell: Music for a while; Thomas Cooley with Voices of Music

In this video

Purcell’s enchanting air upon a ground bass, “Music for a while,” sung by tenor Thomas Cooley with the San Francisco Early Music Ensemble Voices of Music. Featuring Elisabeth Reed, viola da gamba; Hanneke van Proosdij, baroque organ and David Tayler, archlute. Purcell’s setting of Music for a while appears in many sources and arrangements, including John Dryden’s Oedipus and Orpheus Britannicus.

Text: The original text by Dryden reads as follows:
1. Musick for a while
Shall your Cares beguile:
Wondring how your Pains were eas’d.
2. And disdaining to be pleas’d;
3. Till Alecto free the dead
From their eternal Bands;
Till the Snakes drop from her Head,
And whip from out her Hands.

When Purcell set the text, he made a number of small changes to Dryden, and there are also small differences in the sources as well. We have preserved Dryden’s use of the plural for “bands” and “hands” as it makes better poetic sense. Dryden’s text is noteworthy for the irregular metric patterns: the opening line could easily be mistaken for rough iambic pentameter, but is actually two lines of five syllables. These lines are immediately followed by two lines of seven, then lines alternating seven and six. Purcell’s setting evens the meter of the final two lines, creating a more symmetrical structure.
Video from the Voices of Music Purcell Project, www.voicesofmusic.org


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