Henry Purcell

Pausanias, the Betrayer of his Country, incidental music, Z. 585

    Description by John Palmer

    In a few cases, Purcell contributed so much music to a stage work that his contemporaries referred to them as "Semi-Operas." For most such productions, however, Purcell followed traditional practice and wrote only a couple of numbers for a given play. Sometimes this consisted of only instrumental music, more often solo songs or duets.

    Purcell composed incidental music for Richard Norton's Pausanias, the Betrayer of his Country in 1695, probably in the late summer or early fall, contributing one song and one duet to the stage production.

    The duet, "My dearest, my fairest," features two strands of melody delicately and artfully woven together. The influence of Monteverdi's late style is evident in the interplay of the voice parts and the general texture.

    Far more impressive is "Sweeter than roses," the first of Purcell's two numbers in Pausanias and one of his best songs. "Sweeter than roses" is a lengthy seduction song in two parts, the first a lyrical, passionate arioso, the second a more animated section in triple meter. In the first part we find some unusual melodic manipulation that facilitates musical illustration of the words. The opening line of this C minor song is an odd five measures long. Supporting the melody is a descending line that twice passes through C - B flat - A flat - G. Instead of repeating this phrase, either at the same pitch level or another, as is typical of Purcell, he sets the same text again but gives it a greatly altered setting. The bass now descends through an entire octave, from G to G, and the melody has been changed and extended. However, Purcell preserves motives from the first melody, moving the melisma on the word "cool" to the word "evening" in the passage, "cool evening breeze," adding the text, "On a warm flowery shore" before the cadence. Instead of the single, sustained note on "Sweeter" that we hear the first time through, Purcell sets the word to a turn-like figure hovering around G and A flat, "borrowed" from the preceding continuo passage. Although the full melodies are very different, Purcell creates unity by using the same motives on different words. Momentarily, Purcell moves to E flat major and, again manipulating motives, he moves the quivering, trill-like passage on G and A flat from "Sweeter" to "trembling." At the end of the first section, "then shot like fire all o'er," the music moves to the tonic major.

    The second part of "Sweeter than roses" is built on a rhythmic ostinato of two eighths followed two quarter notes, the eighths always leaping down a third. In C major, the second part is as harmonically simple as the first, not venturing beyond the dominant. The constant repetition in the bass contrasts with florid melodies, especially an extended melisma on "victorious."

    Parts/Movements

    1. Sweeter than roses
    2. My dearest, my fairest

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2004 Decca 475529