Dido and Aeneas
Act III, Scene 2: Dido: Thy hand, Belinda/When I am laid in earth
, Chorus: With drooping wings
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 5 Tracks 7-10
A book of Tate's underneath the bough, a pint of beer, a good bass line--and thou, Lady Port-Huntly, in the brewery--Oh, brewery were paradise now! Or so I am inclined to think after revisiting Purcell's English hit. I thank Dido for her sadness, in spite of her most persuasive petition. And I wonder at the depth of the students in Chelsea who premiered this exceptional piece.
It is odd, for me, to hear this famous five-bar bass line performed with the gentle plucks recorded here. Even while listening to this version I still imagine the 'cello. In fact, the long sustained pitches that occur in the continuo, to my ears, should have more tension than we hear in this rendition. However, this may only be a preference for the familiar. The performers here have accomplished, unmistakably, a rendition that allows Henry's music to speak for itself.
What I like about this short excerpt of a short opera is the way parts enhance each other. The opening recitative takes the listener into the aria quickly and beautifully. In memory, it becomes inseparable from that more lyrical section. And in that section that the listener is able to indulge in repetition. The chorus is necessary as a way to soften our vicarious grief and provide some sense of closure. In each section the listener experiences the power of simple music symbolism: a descending chromatic line conveys sadness.
And if you feel sad and like it....
Read also about the Westminster Abby
, where Purcell remains close to the keyboards.