Henry Purcell (1659-1695): My heart is fixed, O God

Henry Purcell This wonderful verse anthem is one of my favourites I find it’s cheerful expansiveness simply irresistible while its joyful text from Psalm 57 is a great tonic to the Anglican angst in which Purcell all too frequently indulges himself. The source is the ‘Royal Music’ manuscript which dates it to the three year period 1682-85 during which Purcell composed most of his best large-scale anthems. It’s a bit unusual in that instead of starting with a string symphony Purcell launches straight into a triple-time movement with lots of word-painting for three solo voices. The reason for this becomes clear at the second line when, obedient to the voices’ command of ‘awake up my glory; awake lute and harp’ the instruments make their first tentative appearance. The symphony proper doesn’t begin until after the voices have declared ‘I myself will awake right early‘. The symphony that follows this lyrical declaration is some of Purcell’s best instrumental writing it’s a stylish piece that’s compellingly melodic and with some wonderful uses of harmony. At the symphony’s end the voices return giving thanks to the Lord followed by a reprise of the Symphony once they have declared the greatness of God’s mercy. Charles II is known to have enjoyed tuneful French-style writing for strings and there’s much here he would surely have approved of.

For the anthem’s final section Purcell creates a six-part texture over a strong continuo it ends with a dancing ritornello which leads into the choir’s chordal Alleluias over which we can hear the violins sounding yet more of the cheerful dance-rhythms so beloved of Purcell’s patron and employer. Enjoy :-).

markfromireland

Text: My heart is fixed, O God, Z29

My heart is fixed, O God: I will sing and give praise with the best member that I have.
Awake up my glory; awake, lute and harp: I myself will awake right early.
I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the people, and I will sing unto thee among the nations,
For the greatness of thy mercy reacheth unto the heav’ns, and thy truth unto the clouds.
Set up thyself, O God, above the heav’ns, and thy glory above all the earth. Alleluia.

Psalm 57: 8-12

Performers:

Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass), New College Choir Oxford, Robert King (conductor)

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