Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Why do the heathen so furiously rage together?

John Gostling (1644–1733) - captioned

‘Why do the heathen so furiously rage together?’

is another one of those anthems dating from the three year period between 1682 and 1685 during which Purcell composed some of his most accomplished string accompaniments. It starts with a superb string symphony which is interrupted by the bass soloist demanding to know ‘Why do the heathen so furiously rage together ?‘. The tenors join in at the second line recounting how the kings and rulers conspire together to free themselves from the rule of God and that of his chosen people. But God laughs these princes to scorn Purcell closes this first section to a close with some gentle triple-time.

The second section has features some wonderful bass solo writing which Purcell’s  wrote for his friend and colleague the celebrated bass John Gostling in fact even when the bass is joined by the tenors he predominates. As he recounts how disobedience to God’s purposes will be met by chastisement. The anthem returns to homophony at the end with first the soloists and then the choir revealing that all who put the trust in God will be blessed. The anthem ends with an ‘Alleluia’. Enjoy :-)


Text: Why do the heathen so furiously rage together? Z65

Why do the heathen so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying:
Let us break their bonds asunder and cast away their cords from us.
But he that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn: He shall have them in derision.
Then shall he speak to them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure; yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Sion.
I will preach the law whereof thou hast said unto me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee;
Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the sea for thy possession.
Thou shalt bruise them with a rod of iron, and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings; be learned, ye that are judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice in him with reverence.
Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and so ye perish from the right way; if his wrath be kindled (yea, but a little), blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Psalm 2

Performer information: Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass), New College Choir Oxford

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