Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Let mine eyes run down with tears

Purcell - John Closterman - Oil on canvas 300 x 327

This week’s posting in my series discussing Purcell’s religious music is the anthem ‘Let mine eyes run down with tears’ it’s a beautiful piece of work that is unabashedly another one of Purcell’s masterpieces. It dates from sometime early in the 1680s — Robert King thinks it was probably written around 1682,  which seems about right to me. Its text is the almost unbearably desolate verses of Jeremiah 14: 17-22  which Purcell handles in such a way that it manages to be ornate, starkly simple, and comforting at the same time.

Purcell’s deployment of his forces and his structuring of the anthem is masterful. The anthem is for five parts accompanied only by basso continuo and his rich harmonies and original melodic language can be found throughout the piece. In the first section Purcell engages heavily in pictorialisation from the opening downwards flowing melisma which represents tears,  to the sense of desolation in the word ‘broken’, the false relation at ‘great breach’ and the sudden downwards plunge at ‘very grievous blow’.

At ‘If I go forth into the field’ there is a recitativo like section for the tenor and bass followed by the five voices uniting for ‘Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? Hath thy soul loathed Sion?’. Purcell makes his five voices pass the short phrases in the next line between them in a manner which is both mournful and almost angry making them unite when they come to ‘and there is no healing for us?’ He ends with the tension and grief laden ‘We looked for peace, and there is no good’.

The chorus of ‘We acknowledge, O Lord’ provides a respite from the stress and desolation of the text but this proves to be temporary as we move into the third and final part of the anthem. This is marked by the voices pleading and begging The Lord to ‘remember’ followed by the cry of desperation of ‘Oh do not disgrace the throne of thy glory’. There then follows the tenor  singing ‘Are there any among the vanities of the gentiles’ which is followed by  ‘Art thou not he?’ and the resigned final chorus of ‘? Therefore will we wait upon thee, O Lord, … …’ which brings this starkly moving masterpiece to an end.

You’ll find the music, text, and performer information below. Enjoy :-).

markfromireland

Let mine eyes run down with tears Z24 complete [audio:http://saturdaychorale.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Let-mine-eyes-run-down-with-tears-complete.mp3|titles=Let mine eyes run down with tears Z24 com­plete]

Part 1: Let mine eyes run down with tears

[audio:http://saturdaychorale.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Let-mine-eyes-run-down-with-tears-Part-1.mp3|titles=Part 1 Let mine eyes run down with tears]

Performers: Nicholas Witcomb (treble), Jerome Finnis (treble), James Bowman (countertenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass)

Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease.

For the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow.

If I go forth into the field, then behold the slain with the sword!

And if I enter into the city, then behold them that are sick with famine!

Yea, both the prophet and the priest go about into a land which they know not.

Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? Hath thy soul loathed Sion?

Why hast thou smitten us, and there is no healing for us?

We looked for peace, and there is no good, and for the time of healing, and behold trouble!

Jeremiah 14: 17-22

Part 2: We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness

[audio:http://saturdaychorale.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Let-mine-eyes-run-down-with-tears-Part-2.mp3|titles=Part 2 We acknowledge O Lord our wickedness]

Performers: New College Choir Oxford

We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our forefathers, for we have sinned against thee.

Jeremiah 14: 17-22

Part 3: Do not abhor us, for thy name’s sakes

[audio:http://saturdaychorale.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Let-mine-eyes-run-down-with-tears-Part-3.mp3|titles=Part 3 Do not abhor us for thy names sakes]

Performers: Nicholas Witcomb (treble), Jerome Finnis (treble), James Bowman (countertenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass), New College Choir Oxford

Do not abhor us, for thy name’s sake; do not, oh do not disgrace the throne of thy glory:

Remember, break not thy covenant with us.

Are there any among the vanities of the gentiles that can cause rain? Or can the heavens give showers?

Art thou not he, O Lord our God? Therefore will we wait upon thee, O Lord, for thou hast made all these things.

Jeremiah 14: 17-22

2 thoughts on “Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Let mine eyes run down with tears

  1. Thank you for the good discussion of How long great God. I have also been struck by Purcell’s moving setting of this, and am writing an article connecting it with ecstatic devotion.

    J. Youngdahl, Canada

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