The Royalist clergyman Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) served as a chaplain to Charles I and was captured and imprisoned during the Civil War. After he was released from prison he retired to Wales where he wrote poetry, books of sermons, a prayer manual and an argument for toleration. The Puritan state found all of this uncongenial and imprisoned him no less than three times. Charles II rewarded his loyalty by making him Bishop of Down and Connor. His text recounting the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus is quite dramatic. Purcell’s treatment of Fuller’s vivid language and more than somewhat exaggerated sentiments is to add his own sometimes quite extraordinary musical twists and turns to depict his subject matter.
Thus the continuo rhythmically tramps the road to Damascus as Saul belches ‘nought but chains and death’ while the light that God uses to blind him is depicted with a stunningly harmonised set of melismas on the word ‘glorious’. The continuo’s progression is briefly halted at ‘On his amazed eyes it night did fling‘ before it (and Saul) resume their journey with Saul now fundamentally changed from being ‘a child of wrath’ to a ‘vessel full of glory‘. Fuller’s text ends with a prayer that God should ‘curb us in our dark and sinful way’, as we ‘down horrid precipices run’ which provides Purcell with the opportunity for one last musical depiction which he duly takes when sets ‘down’ a strong emphasis. You can hear it below sung with great relish by Charles Daniels. Enjoy :-).
Text: Full of wrath, his threatening breath, Z185
Full of wrath, his threatening breath
Belching nought but chains and death,
Saul was arrested in his way
By a voice and light
That if a thousand days
Should join their rays
To beautify a day
It would not show so glorious and so bright.
On his amazed eyes it light did fling,
That day might break within,
And by these beams of faith
Make him of a child of wrath
Become a vessel full of glory.
Lord, curb us in our dark and sinful way,
We humbly pray,
When we down horrid precipices run
With feet that thirst to be undone,
That this may be our story.
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)
Performer: Charles Daniels (tenor)