Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Awake, awake, put on thy strength

purcell stamp belgium 150x280 Purcell composed Awake, awake, put on thy strength between 1680 and 1682. It’s a  cheerful piece with a splendid opening Symphony and lots of the triple-time dance like music that Purcell’s royal master found so pleasing. It takes its text from Isaiah 51: 9-11 and is one of the seventeen anthems copied out in Purcell’s own hand contained in the British Library’s ‘Royal’ manuscript. For the present performance because the final chorus has never been found (the manuscript contains a blank page where it should be so presumably Purcell never got around to copying it out) Robert King reconstructed it using by continuing the ground bass and making use other material from Purcell.

The anthem opens with a Symphony as you might expect from Purcell it’s a splendid afair whose dotted rythms are underpinned by glorious use of harmony and whose inner parts are very finely written. Its triple-time dancing section is replete with the cheerful dancing rythms Charles II found so pleasing. These lead straight into the start of the vocal music a bass solo in which the soloist recalling ‘the ancient days’ and ‘the generations of old’ in which God cut Rahab and ‘wounded the dragon‘ calls upon God to awake and put on his strength. There’s some wonderful word painting during this solo for instance at ‘the waters of the great deep‘ where the score calls for the soloists voice to sink deep into the depths of its register a feat which the excellent Michael George manages with aplomb.

The bass solo continues until we get to ‘Therefore the redeemed …‘ at which point tenors enter and the trio sing of how the redeemed shall ‘obtain gladness and joy‘ and ‘sorrow and mourning shall flee away‘ – this last hast particularly pleasing harmonies. A reprise of the Symphony’s dancing triple section follows which Purcell extends with the soloists followed by a ritornello and joyful choral Alleluias. Enjoy :-).


Text: Awake, awake, put on thy strength

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Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.
Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab that wounded the dragon?
Awake, awake, art thou not it that hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep, that hath made the deep of the sea a way for the ransom’d to pass over?
Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O arm of the Lord.
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

Isaiah 51: 9-11

Performer Information: Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass), King’s Consort Choir

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