Forthcoming Series: Henry Purcell, The Complete Sacred Music

Henry Purcell was born in London in 1659 and died there in 1695. He is one of England’s most important composers who during his 36 years, contributed enormously to the English-speaking world’s musical heritage.

His output was vast and encompassed music for theatre, opera, court odes, songs, and an enormous quantity of sacred music. The extant sacred musical works include:

  • Sixty-five full and verse anthems.
  • A morning service in B flat.
  • An evening service in B flat.
  • A Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in G minor.
  • A setting of the Te Deum and Jubilate.
  • Thirty-five pieces with non-biblical texts.

Despite his standing as the only major English composer between Byrd and modern times comparitively little of his this embarassment of riches is part of the choral repertoire of Britain’s cathedral and university choirs, still less is to be found outside of those two milieux. Even the relatively small number of his pieces that are established in the repertoire suffer from the lack of a proper accompaniment. Purcell’s accompaniments which he wrote for strings are today usually played on an organ. This is better than nothing but it does mean that we never get to hear Purcell’s remarkably beautiful accompaniments as he meant them to be heard. An equally sad situation pertains for his recorded works which rarely – if ever, reproduce the orchestral line-up which was available to Purcell at the Chapel Royal.

As a small contribution to efforts to remedy this situation I shall be posting one complete recording a week of Purcell’s sacred music starting on Friday March 2nd 2012 with a recording of Purcell’s anthem ‘O sing unto the Lord’ Z44. In the meantime, (and to whet your appetite), here’s a little something to be going on with:

‘Early, O Lord, my fainting soul’ (Z132) – the text is a paraphrase of Psalm 63 by John Patrick, is one of Purcell’s most beautifuly written anthems for solo voices. It’s full of delicate harmonies and must have been written with two gifted treble soloists in mind. It’s performed below by Nicholas Witcomb (treble), Philip Hallchurch (treble), Charles Daniels (tenor), and Michael George (bass).

[audio:|titles=Early O Lord my fainting soul Henry Purcell – Z132]


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