Past workshop: Purcell 2021

When:  Saturday 16th October 2021, 10am – 1pm
Where: St Michael’s Church, High Street, Lewes

At this half-day workshop we looked at a set of anthems by Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695), including ‘I was glad’ and ‘Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts’.

About the music

In 1682 Purcell became Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, aged 23, and many of his anthems were written in these very early 1680s. As the decade progressed, Purcell turned his attention more towards writing for Court celebrations, and the theatre including Opera.

Purcell’s anthems are of two types: Full anthems written for full choir, often in a single section without breaks, while Verse anthems set each sentence of text separately, often featuring small solo groups of singers. We will sing two of each type.

I was glad when they said unto me (verse anthem) dates from 1682-3 but was most notably sung at the very start of the coronation of James II on 23 April 1685. Musically this was a very grand occasion and featured eleven anthems by the major composers of the day. Purcell’s two contributions began and ended the service.

O God, Thou art my God, another verse anthem, ends with an Hallelujah section which became the well known hymn tune ‘Westminster Abbey’.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my crying come unto thee is a Full anthem written for 8 parts SSAATTBB. These 34 bars of music comprise some of the most intense and chromatic counterpoint written by Purcell.

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts (2nd Setting). Purcell first set these ‘funeral sentences’ when he was 13 years old, subsequently revising them at least twice. But he felt moved to write a new, more solemn version for the funeral of Queen Mary in 1695. And later the same year, this setting was sung again at Westminster Abbey at his own funeral. In complete contrast to the counterpoint of Hear my prayer, this setting is entirely homophonic creating a truly profound mood.