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17/02/2017 HenryPurcellDidosLamentfromDidoandAeneas|APieceaWeek

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HenryPurcellDidosLamentfromDido
andAeneas

APR28
Postedbyallocutus
TheComposer

HenryPurcellwasbornin1659inLondon.Asachild,hesunginthechoirattheChapelRoyaland
showedanaturaltalentforcomposition.Infact,histalentwassopronouncedthatitwouldbefairto
thinkofhimasacompositionalprodigy.Hisrstpublishedworkwasasongwri enwhenhewas
eightyearsold.Whenhisvoicebrokeandhecouldnolongersinginthechoir,hewashiredto
variouspositions,eventuallybecomingthecomposerinordinaryfortheviolinsatcourt.Despitehis
position,Purcellmainlycomposedsacredvocalmusicperiodatthistime.Purcellwasextremely
prolic,gainingareputationasEnglandsgreatestcomposer(apositionsomebelievehestillholds).
Hiscareerreectedthissuccess.AtvarioustimesheheldpositionsastheorganistofWestminster
AbbeyandtheChapelRoyal,aswellascomposertothecourt.Unfortunately,Purcelldiedatthe
youngageofthirtysix,butnotbeforeleavingamassivecatalogconsistingmostofvocalworks,
manyofwhichrankamongthegreatestmusicevercomposedintheEnglishlanguage.

TheWork

DidoandAeneaswasanexampleofbaroqueopera.Atthetimeitwascomposed,operawasafairly
newartform.Therstworkconsideredtobeabonadeoperawascomposedin1600byJacopo
Peri.InthetimebetweenthatrstcompositionandthepremiereofDidoandAeneasaround168889,
afairlyuniformstructurehadbeenestablishedforthecompositionofoperas.Thisconsistedof
isolatedsongs,orarias,surroundedbydeclaimedorhalfsungsections,whichwerecalleddry
recitative(orrecitativoseccoinItalianopera),thatservedtomovethedramaticactionforward.In
thisway,ariasservedarolesimilartosoliloquiesinspokentheater.AsanodtotheGreektradition
thatinspiredopera,mostoperasalsoincludedachorusthatservedtocommentontheactionofthe
drama.

Likemostoperasfromthisperiod,thesubjectofDidoandAeneasisdrawnfromclassicalstorytelling.
Thelibre oisanallegoricaladaptationofaportionofVirgilsAeneid.IttellsthestoryDido,the
queenofCarthage,andhermarriagetotheTrojanAeneas.Asorceresswishingtobringthedownfall
ofCarthageplotstotrickAeneasintoleavingforItaly,believinghehasbeenorderedbythegods,
thendestroyinghisshipintransit.Aeneasfallsfortheplot,andupontellingDidohemustleave,she
relents.Inhersorrow,sheslowlydies,leadingtotheendoftheopera.

Theariafeaturedinthispostisthenalariaofthework,popularlycalledDidosLament.This
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17/02/2017 HenryPurcellDidosLamentfromDidoandAeneas|APieceaWeek

Theariafeaturedinthispostisthenalariaofthework,popularlycalledDidosLament.This
ariaiswhatiscalledagroundbassaria.Theprimarydistinguishingfeatureofthiskindofariaisthe
repeatedbasslinethatisfeaturedthroughoutthework.Thegroundbasslineinthisariaisdesigned
tobesymbolicofDidosdeath,featuringaslowchromaticdescent.Linesmovingbydescending
semitoneswereandareoftenusedmetaphoricallytodepictdeath.

Thesectionyouwillhearintherecordingfeaturestheariaaswellastheprecedingrecitative.In
baroquepractice,recitativewasaccompaniedbyasemiimprovisedbassocontinuo.Bassocontinuo
wasafeatureofbaroquemusicthatconsistedofaneverpresentaccompanimentconsistingofa
monophonicbassinstrument,usuallyacello,andapolyphonicinstrumentofsomesort,usuallya
harpsichord,thoughoccasionallyanorganorlute.Thebasslineinthesepartswouldbewri enout
withguredbassthatthekeyboardorluteplayerwouldusetoimproviseharmony.

Ihaveincludedthelyricsbelow.NoticethewayPurcellusesthegroundbasstodepictthedescent
intothecoldground.Baroquemusiccanoftenseemcoldandtechnical(seeVivaldiandBach),but
Purcellsmusichereisbothtouchingandtragic,reachingadistinctlygrandlevelastheoperacomes
toaclose.Enjoylisteningtothisperformance,recordedatthePromsin2009.

Recitative

Thyhand,Belinda,darknessshadesme,
Onthybosomletmerest,
MoreIwould,butDeathinvadesme;
Deathisnowawelcomeguest.

Aria

WhenIamlaid,amlaidinearth,Maymywrongscreate
Notrouble,notroubleinthybreast;
Rememberme,rememberme,butah!forgetmyfate.
Rememberme,butah!forgetmyfate.

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17/02/2017 HenryPurcellDidosLamentfromDidoandAeneas|APieceaWeek

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