Henry Purcell (1659-1695): By beauteous softness mixed with majesty

By beauteous softness mixed with majesty,
An empire over every heart she gains;
And from her awful power none could be free.
She with such sweetness and such justice reigns.

Purcell Closterman Small "By beauteous softness mixed with majesty" is the seventh movement of the first of a series of Odes that Purcell wrote celebrating Queen Mary’s birthday on 30 April 1689. It’s such a ravishingly beautiful piece of music that it’s often performed separately especially by counter-tenors eager to show what they can do. The texture is very rich Purcell scored the accompaniment in the same way as he would a string ensemble but added a ‘third violin’ (actually a small viola – mfi) thereby providing himself with a five-part orchestral texture that beautifully complements the singing. This complementarity is particularly important when we get to the alto solo of "By beauteous softness mixed with majesty", I think it must surely rank as some of the best music that Purcell  ever wrote. The whole movement is ravishing but the climax at end of the line "She with such sweetness and such justice reigns"  and the way in which Purcell overlaps the voice with a jaw droppingly beautiful five-part string ritornello never fails to both move and amaze me. It’s beautiful but it’s also very difficult to get right you need a singer whose musical control is so good that they can quietly  portray ecstasy without overstating it you also need the accompanying musicians to be able to come in over the final vocal phrase without smothering it. All of that is far more difficult than you might think fortunately for us  VOCES8’s countertenor Barnaby Smith and Les Inventions under the direction of Patrick Ayrton rise magnificently to the challenge and make it sound effortless as they do so. Enjoy :-).

mfi

Henry Purcell (1659-1695): By beauteous softness mixed with majesty

By beauteous softness mixed with majesty,
An empire over every heart she gains;
And from her awful power none could be free.
She with such sweetness and such justice reigns.

Performers: Barnaby Smith (countertenor), Les Inventions conducted by Patrick Ayrton.

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