Music and Vision homepage



TREVOR HOLD has dragged
from oblivion some music
you will not know.

25. Purcell's Welcome Ode on Pepys's Recovery from the Bladderstone



Some scholars insist that this is a spurious work. Pepys's famous operation for kidney stone took place in 1658, the year before Purcell was born. Even so, the hand of H.P. is discernible on every page. A possible explanation is that it was written after a later recurrence of Pepys's affliction, for it is known that the poor diarist suffered from 'the stone' throughout his life.

Having fallen out with both Tate and Brady, and Dryden being occupied with a satire, Purcell turned to his old friend John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, for a text. The noble earl as usual came up trumps and furnished Henry with some excellent verses, as the following examples demonstrate:

[Pepys leaves his sickbed]

            Prithee now, fond Nurse, give o're;
            Since my op is gone before,
            To what purpose shou'd I stay?
            Fate Commands I go my way.

[Grand Chorus of Encouragement]

            Hail! Great Pepys,
            Albion's True Neptune
            & Ruler of the Wave,
            Rise up from thy sickbed
            And again thy Country save!

The music, an interesting mixture of the composer's earlier and later manners, consists of four vocal movements preceded by an instrumental Sinfonia:

  • Sinfonia, in four sections: a pomposo opening section followed by a brief fugato, in French Overture style; a doleful canzona scored for flatt trumpets and sackbuts alone; a sprightly string fantasia featuring two pedal notes, C and F-sharp, which cause astonishing dissonances in almost every bar; and a concluding minuet.
  • 'Welcome, thrice welcome': soprano solo answered by chorus, set as an air-over-a-ground.
  • 'Cast out the stone!': duet for two counter-tenors over a basso ostinato.
  • 'Let me languish, and complain': another air-over-a-ground, this time requiring a bass of prodigious vocal range. Particularly dramatic is the setting of the words 'Down to the depths I fall', where the singer plunges down 2½ octaves, from high G to low C.
  • 'Hail! Great Pepys!': the final, jubilant chorus, for full ensemble in Purcell's grandest style, cast as a chaconne with 20 variations.


Copyright © 2 November 2000, Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK



 << Music & Vision homepage            The Cryes of London >>