Early in his career, Henry Purcell, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal of England, composed widely in the Anglican genres of the Full and Verse Anthem. Save me, O God, survives in a great manuscript "scorebook" (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum MS 88) in the composer's hand, and presents a somewhat typical example of the former. Save me, O God is in fact the first of Purcell's compositions he copied into this manuscript, possibly indicating it was the first piece he thought worth saving. Although alternations between full choir and trios produce a series of textural contrasts as the piece unfolds, the textures never devolve into freestanding solo sections; the contrasts rather counterpoise different timbres of the full choir sound.
Purcell treats his English text (Psalm 54, in a close paraphrase of the King James Bible translation) throughout with characteristic facility of melody and rhythm. The different sections often present poetically apt motives in careful imitation; examples include the dramatic shift to dotted rhythms for the text "And avenge me in thy strength," and a strikingly surging melody which sets "For strangers are risen up against me." A unique feature of this anthem is its tonal disjunction: most of the piece, including the opening, is in G minor, but a jubilant trio section and the final chorus (which also happens to be a five-in-one canon!) close in G major. This remarkable ending may have been inspired by the hopeful conclusion to the Psalm.