Music for a While - Purcell

Context

Baroque - solo and continuo

Incidental music written to be performed in a play

Written around 1692 for Oedipius (a play by John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee loosely based on Oedipius Rex)

About the power of music and is sung to raise King Lazarus' ghost to discover his murderer (who is his son Oedipius)

Alecto was a minor Greek deity who avenged crimes. Similar to Medusa, she had snakes for hair and a studded whip.

Written as melody and unfigured bass, generally sang by a countertenor (male alto)

Originally in C minor, but transposed up to A minor for anthology.

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Melody

Stepwise (conjunct) with occasional leaps.

Passing notes between chord notes.

Over an octave range ( a minor 9th)

Many ornaments including upper mordants, lower mordants, trills, grace notes, appoggiaturas and arppeggiation.

Syllabic word-setting with some melisma

Frequent repetition of words.

Rests for expressive effect, rising and falling sequences

Ground bass but melody and ground bass don't always end together

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Word Painting

Repetition of ALL 6 times suggests a multitude

Melisma illustrating contemplative nature of WOND'RING

Suspension and discord on PAIN

Melisma on ETERNAL to emphasize its meaning and portray the everlasting nature of death

DROP repeated on quaver off-beats 9 times to suggest snakes dropping off Alecto's head

FREE THE DEAD on ascending phrase in G major

SNAKES on a C-sharp which is unusual to the key, like snakes are unusual

Grace note on WHIP implies the crack of a whip

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Structure and Tonality

Ternary form: ABA
-A: (bars 1-15) in A minor with modulation to dominant E minor
-B: (bars 16-28) modulates through related keys, shortened and lengthened by ground bass variations, E minor to G major to A minor
-A': (bars 29-38) in A minor ending on tonic chord

Ground bass = repeating pattern in the bass melody/ harmony

Upper notes of ground bass form a chromatic scale

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Rhythm, Metre, Tempo

Simple quadruple meter - 4/4 time

Tempo= slow moving and gentle

Grosud bass is formed of quavers creating a walking bass that only stops at the end

Vocals follow rhythms of the lyrics and is written mainly in quavers and semiquavers

Syncopation and off-beat notes

Tied notes, dotted rhythms in harpsichord right hand

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Texture, Dynamics and Instrumentation

Homophonic - melody and accompaniment

Elaborate harpsichord creates counterpoint with vocals

Short imitative points and singer seems to imitate accompaniment

No dynamics or expression written

Up to performers to add dynamics

Solo vocal part (originally countertenor)

Continuo = harpsichord and bass viol (a predecessor to the double bass)

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Harmony

Chord progression consists of alternate root position and 1st inversion triads

Augmented and diminished triads used

Variations in decoration and ornamentation in harpsichord part

Variations and additions of passing notes and suspension in vocals

False relation = two different forms of the same pitch in different parts (e.g.: F on F-sharp in bar 1)

Chord of A major instead of A minor on SNAKES forms a fierce de picardie (major tonic chords end cadence in minor key)

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