Henry Purcell (1659-1695): O dive custos Auriacae

Purcell setting of Henry Parker’s poem O dive custos Auriacae domus ‘An elegy upon the death of Queen Mary’ is a stunning piece of music. The poem’s calls upon the Isis and the Cam (the Oxbridge rivers) to weep for their deceased Queen. It’s in the form of a duet and is a wonderful example of Purcell’s Italianate writing that surely ranks high amongst his masterpieces. Purcell has the two voices intertwine in some highly expressive chromatic writing whose jagged intervals, discordant chains, and declamatory style combine into a polished and moving piece of music.


Text & Translation: O dive custos Auriacae

O dive custos Auriacae domus
Et spes labantis certior imperi;
O rebus adversis vocande,
O superum decus in secundis.

O divine guardian of the house of Auriaca
and firmer hope when the empire was stumbling;
there for our prayers in adversities,
in prosperous times our glory supreme.

Seu te fluentem pronus ad Isida
In vota fervens Oxonidum chorus,
Seu te precantur, quos remoti
Unda lavat properata Cami,
Descende caelo non ita creditas
Visurus aedes praesidiis tuis
Descende penates Caesaris
Et penetrali sacrum.

Whether it is the passionate chorus
of Oxford’s children that prays to you,
prostrate by the flowing Isis, or those whom
the Cam’s distant water, hastening, laps,
come down from heaven to see those shrines entrusted
to your votaries to guard, but not for this entrusted!
Come down, O Caesar’s genius spirits,
into the shrine within.

Maria musis flebilis occidit
Maria gentis deliciae breves
Maria occidit, o flete Mariam,
O flete Camaenae,
O flete Divae;
Flete dea moriente.

Henry Parker (1604-1652)

For Mary has died and the muses are weeping,
Mary beloved of mortals short-lived,
Mary is dead; lament, weep for Mary.
Weep, O you muses,
weep, you goddesses,
weep while divinity dies.

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