Henry Purcell: Three Songs for String Quartet

Purcell’s Three Songs for String Quartet (GRAHAM BASTABLE)


Henry Purcell (1659-1694) was, in my opinion, England’s greatest native-born composer, and perhaps the most original voice of the mid-Baroque. He wrote a large body of work in a short lifetime: works for the stage, church music, secular and sacred songs, and many remarkable instrumental works. These three songs show the great variety of style and mood in his writing. All three are from staged works and incidental music.

“What Shall I Do” is from The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (1690). It is a lover’s lament.

“Next, Winter Comes Slowly” from The Fairy Queen is a remarkable example of mood and word painting. The melismatic line in the cello at measure 25 is on the word “quivering.” The song was originally written for bass voice which I have assigned to the cello. I recommend it be played without vibrato.

“From Rosy Bowers” is from The Comical History of Don Quixote (1694-1695). The author of the text, Tom Durfey, describes this piece as a “Mad Song: by a lady distracted with love…performing in the tune all the degrees of madness”, which are characterized as: “suddenly mad, mirthfully mad (a swift movement), Melancholy madness, Fantastically mad, Stark mad.”

I have indicated all melismatic passages with dotted slurs. All editorial additions are set off in parentheses.

Graham Bastable

New York, NY

December 2009