Friday, July 10, 2015

Purcell and Cowley

We purchased this album of Purcell "catch songs", a cantata set to a poem by Abraham Cowley, and an ode to Saint Cecilia at one of the used record stores in Wichita. The LP was from the Musical Heritage Society, the budget mail-order record company, and the music is performed by The Deller Consort. The Musical Heritage Society licensed the material from Harmonia Mundi, which released the recording as a CD. The theme of the album is that composers like Purcell had to be active both in the secular and the sacred world--the "ale-house and the Chapel Royal, as well as the playhouse and the church."

The songs on A side of the LP combine "strict counterpoint and scatological verse", according to Denis Stevens' liner notes, while the B side contains the more serious works, including the setting of Cowley's poem:

If ever I more riches did desire
Than cleanliness and quiet do require, 
If e'er Ambition did my fancy cheat, 
With any wish so mean as to be great, 
Continue, Heav'n, still from me to remove 
The humble blessings of that life I love. 

Upon the slipp'ry tops of human state, 
The gilded pinnacles of fate, 
Let others proudly stand, and for awhile 
The giddy danger to beguile, 
With joy and with disdain look down on all, 
Till their heads turn, and down they fall. 

Me, O ye Gods, on earth, or else so near, 
That I no fall to earth may fear, 
And, O ye gods, at a good distance seat 
From the long ruins of the great. 
Here wrap'd in the arms of Quiet le me lie; 
Quiet, companion of Obscurity. 
Here let my life with as much silence slide 
As time, that measures it, does glide. 

Nor let the breath of Infamy or Fame 
From town to town echo about my name, 
Nor let my homely death embroider'd be 
With scutcheon or with elegy: 
An old plebeian let me die. 
Alas, all then are such as well as I. 

To him, alas, to him, I fear, 
The face of Death will terrible appear, 
Who in his life flatt'ring his senseless pride 
By being known to all the world beside, 
Does not himself, when he is dying, know, 
Nor what he is, nor whither he's to go.

Abraham Cowley was one of the Metaphysical poets and a friend and admirer of Richard Crashaw. According to this biography:

Poet and essayist Abraham Cowley was born in London, England, in 1618. He displayed early talent as a poet, publishing his first collection of poetry, Poetical Blossoms (1633), at the age of 15. Cowley studied at Cambridge University but was stripped of his Cambridge fellowship during the English Civil War and expelled for refusing to sign the Solemn League and Covenant of 1644. In turn, he accompanied Queen Henrietta Maria to France, where he spent 12 years in exile serving as her secretary. During this time, Cowley completed The Mistress (1647). Arguably his most famous work, the collection exemplifies Cowley’s metaphysical style of love poetry. After the Restoration, Cowley returned to England, where he was reinstated as a Cambridge fellow and earned his MD before finally retiring to the English countryside.

No comments:

Post a Comment