Music For a While - Purcell

  • Created by: Noxas
  • Created on: 05-04-19 09:14


Ground Bass

  • Music for a While was composed by Henry Purcell to accompany the play Oedipus
  • He often wrote choral music, chamber music, orchestral music, and theatre music
  • In the play, this song is sung by a priest who is attempting to summond the ghost of a dead king
  • A ground bass is a repeating melodic phrase in the bass part
  • The ground bass in Music for a While is only three bars long, which is unusual considering the metre is in 4/4
  • The general shape of the melody is ascending chromatic (going from F♯ to G, then G to A♯
  • As the ground bass rises, the vocal melody descends, in a technique called contrary motion
  • The quavers in the ground bass continue through the whole piece, this is an example of walking bass


Tonality and Structure

  • Purcell uses word painting to reflect the meaning of the lyrics
  • In bars 23-25, the short quaver notes with quaver rests between sound like raindrops while the singer repeats 'drop'
  • The word 'eternal' in bars 20-21 is held over a number of notes (melisma)
  • There is discord in bar 12 when 'pains' is sung, which is then resloved as the lyrics move to the word 'eas'd'
  • Most keywords are placed on main beats to highlight them
  • The main tonality of this piece is in A minor (however the original version was in C minor)
  • This minor key reflects the sombre mood of the lyrics
  • The ground bass has many accidentals, and is very chromatic, making it hard to identify the key
  • In bars 3-4, a perfect cadence in A minor establishes the key
  • This piece also passes through many related keys throughout the middle of the piece


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