Henry Purcell (1659-1695): O Lord God of hosts

Purcell Closterman Small Purcell only ever wrote three anthems scored for eight-part choir of which ‘O Lord God of hosts’ (Z37) is one. It’s an early work which wrote by 1681 at the latest and it’s more likely that he wrote it a year earlier. The text is from Psalm 80 and Purcell who loved nothing more than a desolate text responded by creating an anthem full of wonderfully rich vocal textures. The anthem starts with a choral section in which Purcell passes the imitative point between all eight voices and combines the slowly moving harmonic pulse with astonishingly detailed contrapuntalism. The second line ‘Thou feedest them with the bread of tears’ is scored for two trios of soloists first the lower voices and then two trebles and a tenor the effect of whose entry enhances the pathos of the text. The full choir makes a return at ‘Thou hast made us a very strife …‘  and there are some wonderful contrapuntal textures at ‘and our enemies laugh us to scorn‘. We then come to the five-part writing for ‘Turn us again, O God of hosts …‘ for me this is the musical highpoint of the anthem with its rich harmonies and downright thrilling use of dissonance. Purcell ends the anthem by bringing back the chorus  who treat us to some remarkable eight-part counterpoint. Enjoy :-).


Text: O Lord God of hosts Z37

O Lord God of hosts: how long wilt thou be angry with thy people that prayeth?
Thou feedest them with the bread of tears: and giv’st them plenteousness of tears to drink.
Thou hast made us a very strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
Turn us again, O God of hosts: shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.
And so will we not go back from thee: O let us live, and we shall call upon thy Name.

Psalm 80: 4-7, 18

Performers: Eamonn O’Dwyer (treble), James Goodman (treble), Mark Milhofer (tenor), James Bowman (countertenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass), King’s Consort Choir

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