Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Lord, I can suffer thy rebukes Z136

This week’s anthem in my series dealing with Purcell’s religious music is Lord, I can suffer thy rebukes (Z136). It’s another one of Purcell’s early works it probably dates from around 1980. Like "O, all ye people, clap your hands" (see: Henry Purcell (1659-1695): O, all ye people, clap your hands | Saturday Chorale) it’s one of nine settings that Purcell made of the clergyman and polemicist John Patrick’s psalm paraphrases. It’s a piece of music that calls for skilled and confident singers who are rarer on the ground than one might think – I’ve heard this piece massacred on more than one occasion. Happily for us the trebles Mark Kennedy and  Daniel Lochmann, the tenor Charles Daniels, and the bass Michael George are skilled and confident singers well capable of performing this piece of music with the combination of sensitivity and vigour that it requires.

[pullquote]John Patrick (1632-1695) was an Anglican clergyman, controversialist, and anti-Catholic polemicist who actively opposed the religious policies of James II and preached against them. He believed that some of the Psalms were unsuitable for Christians as they either could not be separated from Jewish life and traditions or because they or because they embrace emotions and actions (such as vengeance and wrath), which are antithetical to Christian experience. You can read a very short biography of him here.[/pullquote]

"Lord, I can suffer thy rebukes" is scored for four soloists – two boys, and two men. It opens with a musical portrayal of spiritual and emotional desolation sung by a boy soloist. The sense of pleading, of begging to be released is highlighted by the chromaticism of the ‘O’ with which the line "O, let not that against me rise" begins. This sense of desolation is deepened in the following four-part section in which the singers beg of God that he "Pity my languishing estate". Purcell goes all out in depicting this grief his use of falling chromaticism, augmented triads (triads are chords made up of three notes based on the interval of a third an augmented triad is a triad that has been made larger) and overlapping vocal entries all go to paint a picture of unbearable spiritual anguish.  This feeling of  crushing despair is painted very effectively by Purcell’s use of ever-increasingly large intervals on the word ‘crushed’ in "While crushed by thy heavy hand". The bass provides some moments of (relative!) emotional  relief with the lines:

Lord, for thy goodness’ sake, return,

And save my life; for in the grave

None can remember thee, nor thou

Thankful acknowledgements canst have.

But this is soon overtaken by the trebles singing (lines 13 to 16) of how they pass their weary days ‘In sighs and groans‘  while at night they revel in the depths of lachrymose despair so intense that they drown ‘my bed and self in tears‘.  The boys grief at God’s displeasure continues in wonderfully intertwined lines as their all-consuming grief consumes and dims their sight. (Every time I listen to these four lines I can’t help suspecting that Kennedy and Lochmann enjoyed themselves thoroughly singing this utterly over the top music, but I digress).

Help and hope however are at hand the two lower voices who overcome their foes to depart with the help of the Lord who heard the psalmists ‘mournful voice’ and ‘prayer’. The enemies hopes are dashed and the full ensemble rejoice in the fact that they are no longer prey to the enemy who gaped upon them. Having celebrated the confusion and despair of their enemies the four end with a final Alleluia. Enjoy :-)


Text: Lord, I can suffer thy rebukes Z136

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Lord, I can suffer thy rebukes,

When thou dost kindly me chastise;

But thy fierce wrath I cannot bear;

O, let not that against me rise.

Pity my languishing estate;

And those perplexities I feel

While crushed by thy heavy hand,

O, let thy gentler touches heal.

Lord, for thy goodness’ sake, return,

And save my life; for in the grave

None can remember thee, nor thou

Thankful acknowledgements canst have.

See how I pass my weary days

In sighs and groans, and when ‘tis night,

I drown my bed and self in tears;

My grief consumes and dims my sight.

Depart, ye wicked foes; your hopes

Are dashed; for this my mournful voice

Will bring God nearer to my aid,

When you come flocking to rejoice.

The Lord hath heard my prayer;

And those that gap’d upon me as their prey

Will vex themselves at their defeat,

And with confusion turn away.


Psalm 6, first version


Performers: Mark Kennedy (treble), Daniel Lochmann (treble), Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass)

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