Saturday, March 21, 2015

Purcell - Music For The Funeral Of Queen Mary

The English-born Henry Purcell is part of a group of composers that made their mark in music and died before the age of 40, as he died at the age of 36 in 1695.  Purcell brought his gifts to music mainly through songs, anthems, incidental music for the theater and opera. His first known composition was dated 1670 when he was 11 years old, and he continued to compose up until the time of his death.

Music For The Funeral Of Queen Mary was written upon the death of Queen Mary, the daughter of James II, King Of England. She had been married to William Of Orange of the Netherlands in 1677 as a way to patch up differences between the two countries. After James II had tried to return England to Catholicism, William and Mary (both Protestants) were invited to invade England by the members of parliament that were against King James II. The result was that in 1688 William sailed to England in over 400 ships and with 14,000 troops. He marched on London and gathered more and more local support the farther he went. The peaceful change of rule came to be known as the Glorious Revolution and the couple were crowned in 1689 as King William III and Queen Mary II.

William III made most of the decisions for the country as King, but when her husband was out of the country fighting the ongoing war with France, she proved herself an intelligent and capable ruler. She was a very popular ruler, and when she died in 1694 of smallpox, her husband and the nation went into mourning.  Her funeral was the first of any royal that was attended by both House of Parliament. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Purcell wrote new music based on previously written compositions for the Funeral Music For Queen Mary.  Purcell wrote the work for the usual four voiced choir of soprano, alto, tenor and bass; 4 flatt trumpets (in essence a slide trumpet that could play in minor keys), organ and basso continuo. Modern performances include timpani, which may or may not have been used when the music was played at the funeral.

The performance of the work in the link below is comprised of seven parts:

1) The Queen's Funeral March, Sounded Before Her Chariot -  The most well known part of the funeral music. The four trumpets play the march the first time quietly with the timpani adding muffled accents. The march is repeated at a higher volume, along with sparse ornaments in the trumpets.

2) Man That Is Born Of A Woman - The texts for the anthem is taken from the Common Book Of Prayer of the Church Of England
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.

3) Canzona - A short interlude for instruments only. The canzona was developed from various other forms and was used in the 16th and 17th centuries.

4) In The Midst Of Life We Are In Death -
Queen Mary II
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.

5) Canzona - The previous short interlude is repeated.

6) Thou knowest, Lord
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.

7) The Queen's Funeral March - The peaceful amen just sung is brought into perspective with the repeat of the mournful march.

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