Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ash Wednesday: Hear My Prayer, O Lord

A stunning 2 minutes: Purcell's "Hear My Prayer, O Lord", a motet for 8 voices. The thinking is that it was the beginning of something he never finished; the text is simple, from the first verse of Psalm 102. Here it is at YouTube, sung by the Choir of Clare College Cambridge:

A note on the score reads:
This noble fragment, the opening section of an unfinished work, survives only in Fitzwilliam Museum MS 88, one of Purcell's holograph albums, where a blank space is left for its completion. It was composed before 10 September 1682.

I learned that beautiful piece last year. This year, we'll be singing another Purcell motet, "Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts."

The text comes from sentences said at the grave in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Burial Office; Purcell is one of several of his era (including Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Morley) to have set sentences from the Burial Office to music. This piece was part of a composition written for the funeral of Queen Mary; the complete text is this:
1. Man that is born of a woman
hath but a short time to live,
and is full of misery.
He cometh up, and is cut down like a flower;
he fleeth as it were a shadow,
and ne'er continueth in one stay.

2. In the midst of life we are in death:
of whom may we seek for succour,
but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins art justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord, O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Saviour,
deliver us not into the bitter pains
of eternal death.

3. Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
shut not thy merciful ears unto our pray'rs;
but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty.

O holy and most merciful Saviour,
thou most worthy Judge eternal,
suffer us not, at our last hour,
for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Amen.

The other piece we'll be singing is Tallis' "I Call and Cry to Thee":
I call and cry to thee, O Lord. Give ear unto my plaint.
Bow down thine eyes and mark my heavy plight,
and how my soul doth faint.
For I have many ways offended thee.
Forget my wickedness, O Lord, I beseech thee.

Sorry, no video on the web of this, it seems. My score, though, gives the title this way: "I Call and Cry to Thee (O Sacrum Convivium)." And indeed, it seems that this was originally a setting of that antiphon, but Tallis used an English text instead after the Reformation, once English was made the language of the church (and Latin unofficially banished). Here's the piece in its original form:

A Holy Lent to all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful stuff. We sunf this "noble fragment" this morning (First Sunday in Lent) having had a particularly holy Ash Wednesday with Miserere mei (Allegri), Sanctus, Benedictus & Agnus Dei from Missa Brevis (Lotti), Lent Prose (author unknown) and
In iejunio et fletu (Tallis). We've also started rehearsing Purcell's wonderful "Jehova quam multi sunt hostes mei" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETf5kDJV-kg for a service of Tenebrae on Palm Sunday evening.


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