Welcome to All the Pleasures: Henry Purcell’s Odes to Saint Cecilia

Recorded live at Campbell Memorial Chapel on Sunday, November 17, 2019.

Voice of the Arts Interview
Anna Singer talks with Chatham Baroque’s artistic directors Andrew Fouts and Patricia Halverson about the program on Classical WQED-FM 89.3

Welcome to all the Pleasures Z. 339

Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695)
text: Christopher Fishburn (fl. 1683)


Welcome to all the Pleasures that delight,
of ev’ry Sense, the grateful Appetite.
Hail great Assembly of Apollo’s Race,
Hail to this happy place, this Musical Assembly,
that seems to be the Ark of Universal Harmony.

Here the Deities approve,
The God of Music, and of Love;
All the Talents they have lent you,
All the Blessings they have sent you;
pleas’d to see what they bestow,
live and thrive so well below.

                      Jay Carter, countertenor

While Joys Celestial their bright Souls invade
to Find what great improvement you have made.

                      Kathryn Copeland Donaldson, soprano
Christina Lynch, soprano
                     Timothy Stoddard, tenor

Then lift up your Voices, ye Organs of Nature,
those Charms to the troubled and amorous Creature.
The Pow’r shall divert us a pleasanter way,
for sorrow and grief Find from Music relief,
and Love its soft Charms must obey.

Beauty thou Scene of Love,
and Virtue, thou innocent Fire,
made by the Powers above
to temper the heat of Desire,
Music that Fancy employs
in Raptures of innocent Flame,
we offer with Lute and with Voice
to Cecilia, Cecilia’s bright Name.

                     Timothy Stoddard, tenor

In a Consort of Voices while Instruments play,
with Music we celebrate this Holy day;
Iô Cecilia, Cecilia,
in a Consort of Voices we’ll sing.

Hail! Bright Cecilia Z. 328

Henry Purcell
text: Nicholas Brady (1659 – 1726)


Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail! Fill ev’ry Heart
With Love of thee and thy Celestial Art;
That thine and Musick’s Sacred Love
May make the British Forest prove
As Famous as Dodona’s Vocal Grove.

Hark! hark! each Tree its silence breaks,
The Box and Fir to talk begin!
This in the sprightly Violin
That in the Flute distinctly speaks!
‘Twas Sympathy their list’ning Brethren drew,
When to the Thracian Lyre with leafy Wings they Flew.

                     Kathryn Copeland Donaldson, soprano
                     Brian Doherty, bass

‘Tis Natures’s Voice; thro’ all the moving Wood
Of Creatures understood:
The Universal Tongue to none
Of all her num’rous Race unknown!
From her it learnt the mighty Art
To court the Ear or strike the Heart:
At once the Passions to express and move;
We hear, and straight we grieve or hate, rejoice or love:
In unseen Chains it does the Fancy bind;
At once it charms the Sense and captivates the Mind

                     Jay Carter, countertenor

Soul of the World! Inspir’d by thee,
The jarring Seeds of Matter did agree,
Thou didst the scatter’d Atoms bind,
Which, by thy Laws of true proportion join’d,
Made up of various Parts one perfect Harmony.

Thou tun’st this World below, the Spheres above,
Who in the Heavenly Round to their own Music move.

                     Kathryn Copeland Donaldson, soprano

With that sublime Celestial Lay
Can any Earthly Sounds compare?
If any Earthly Music dare,
The noble Organ may.
From Heav’n its wondrous Notes were giv’n,
(Cecilia oft convers’d with Heaven,)
Some Angel of the Sacred Choire
Did with his Breath the Pipes inspire;
And of their Notes above the just Resemblance gave,
Brisk without Lightness, without Dulness Grave.

                     Jay Carter, countertenor
                     Timothy Stoddard, tenor
                     Matthew Hunt, bass

Wondrous Machine!
To thee the Warbling Lute,
Though us’d to Conquest, must be forc’d to yield:
With thee unable to dispute.

                           Brian Doherty, bass

The Airy Violin
And lofty Viol quit the Field;
In vain they tune their speaking Strings
To court the cruel Fair, or praise Victorious Kings.
Whilst all thy consecrated Lays
Are to more noble Uses bent;
And every grateful Note to Heav’n repays
The Melody it lent.

                           Jay Carter, countertenor

In vain the Am’rous Flute and soft Guitarr,
Jointly labour to inspire
Wanton Heat and loose Desire;
Whilst thy chaste Airs do gentle move
Seraphic Flames and Heav’nly Love.

                     Jay Carter, countertenor
                     Timothy Stoddard, tenor

The Fife and all the Harmony of War,
In vain attempt the Passions to alarm,
Which thy commanding Sounds compose and charm.

                     Jay Carter, countertenor

Let these amongst themselves contest,
Which can discharge its single Duty best.
Thou summ’st their diff’ring Graces up in One,
And art a Consort of them All within thy Self alone.

                     Brian Doherty & Matthew Hunt, bass

Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!
Who, whilst among the Choir above
Thou dost thy former Skill improve,
With Rapture of Delight dost see
Thy Favourite Art
Make up a Part
Of infinite Felicity.
Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!

Henry Purcell

For more music by Henry Purcell, Check out Chatham Baroque’s 2002 album Henry Purcell: Sonatas and Theatre Music.

This recording explores music for strings and continuo: four trio sonatas, as well as two instrumental suites from his Ayres for the Theatre (1697). We also include an instrumental work for three violins and continuo, “3 parts upon a ground.”

Chatham Baroque

Andrew Fouts, violin
Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba
Scott Pauley, theorbo


Evan Few, violin
Kristen Linfante, viola
Sue Yelanjian, bass
Meg Owens & Fiona Last, oboe & recorder
Justin Wallace, harpsichord
Shelby Lewis & Chris Carrillo, natural trumpet
Danny Mallon, timpani

and Jay Carter, countertenor


Pittsburgh Camerata

Kathryn Copeland Donaldson, Christina Lynch, & Deborah Dimasi, soprano
Jolanta Doherty, Erin Schmura, & Jennifer Lawyer, alto
Chris Lynch, Steven Cosnek, & Timothy Stoddard, tenor
Brian Doherty, Matthew Hunt, & Ivan Plazačić, bass

Mark Anderson, director

Audio: Kristian Tchetchko
Video: Ivan Plazačić, Sean Donaldson, and Jane Potter Baumer

Program Notes

by Andrew Fouts & Patricia Halverson

Henry Purcell by John Closterman, 1695

Hailed in his time as the “English Orpheus” and remembered by the motto, “A greater musical genius England never had,” Henry Purcell (1659-1695) lived a tragically short but incredibly productive life as a composer. Purcell contributed definitive works to nearly every genre of his time, including instrumental sonatas, secular vocal music, dramatic music (opera and semi-opera), odes and welcome songs, and symphony anthems. The two dozen odes and welcome songs he set are unique in that they span most of his career and, as it turned out, the reigns of three monarchies. They offer a broad spectrum of his compositional development. It is with great pleasure that Chatham Baroque presents, in collaboration with Pittsburgh Camerata, featured countertenor Jay Carter, and a small orchestra of extraordinary instrumentalists, two of Purcell’s greatest odes, Welcome to all the Pleasures and Hail! Bright Cecilia.

Charles II by John Michael Wright, 1661 or 1670s

On May 29, 1660, Charles II both celebrated his 30th birthday and returned from his exile in France to claim the English throne, ending the Interregnum period in place since the execution of his father Charles I in 1649. With the Restoration came the renewal of the court as the center of musical and artistic life in England, a life which had been imperiled since the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. And happily, within two decades of Charles’s return, all of the arts and, in particular, music had been renewed to such a level of excellence as to earn the respect of courts throughout Europe.

One year before Charles’s return, Henry Purcell was born into a well-connected and musical family in London. It comes as no surprise that young Henry’s career began with his assuming the duties of boy chorister in the Chapel Royal. In addition to academic studies, musical instruction included lessons in violin, viol, lutes, virginals, and organ. Purcell studied composition with any number of the venerable composers now reinstated at court, notably Christopher Gibbons, but also John Blow, just ten years Purcell’s senior. Blow’s music became one of Purcell’s biggest musical influences, and in short order, Purcell himself became a source of inspiration to Blow.

The English court ode became popular during the Restoration as a means of celebrating the royal family. Charles II’s birthday became the perennial occasion for the composition of a new ode, as were birthdays of successive monarchs. Odes were written to observe the New Year, to celebrate weddings, and to mark a return of the King to court after a long period of absence. And, of course, odes became a significant part of the observance of St. Cecilia’s Day.

Beginning in the late seventeenth century in London, there arose a collaboration amongst literary and musical forces with the purpose of organizing an annual celebration of St. Cecilia’s Day, to be held on November 22nd, her feast day. The earliest recorded celebrations of this nature occurred in 1683, and the organization thought to have initiated this practice called itself “The Musical Society.” These mega celebrations, which were held on a regular basis until 1703, began with a specially commissioned ode performed by choirs from St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the Chapel Royal, along with male singers hired from local theatres and an instrumental ensemble drawn from the King’s Band of Music and theatre orchestras. Following came a banquet and a church service, complete with sermon. The ode texts harken back to Classical odes, both in meter and form, and also in their adulatory tone, a spirit well suited to the Restoration. Not surprisingly, the poets and musicians engaged to compose the odes were among the most revered composers and writers of the day.

Welcome to all the Pleasures, composed in November of 1683 and performed in London, was the first of Purcell’s odes written in honor of St. Cecilia’s Day. Scored for two violins, viola, gamba or cello, and basso continuo, along with vocal soloists and choir, the ode opens with a characteristic Symphony in duple meter, transitioning in this case to a lively dance in triple meter in the style of a minuet. Purcell introduces important contrasts during the course of this seventeen-minute work. One type of contrast is the shift in meters, as in the move from duple to triple meter within the Symphony. Purcell also creates variety by featuring different voice types in solo songs and by altering the size of the ensemble in the songs and verse settings. In “Here the deities approve,” recognized as one of the most beloved solos in the ode, Purcell creates a clever expansion. The song opens with a single countertenor voice accompanied by a repeating harmonic pattern in the ground bass (a repeating harmonic pattern set forth by the basso continuo). This segues to an instrumental ritornello, a rendition in four-part harmony of “Here the deities approve.” In what might be considered a “mid-career” ode, Purcell’s signature and beloved compositional techniques are fully present—from the subtle and not so subtle insertion of dissonances to the skill he shows in setting individual words of the texts so perfectly that the meaning can be grasped from the music alone. The final song and chorus close appropriately with text in praise of St. Cecilia: “in a consort of voices we’ll sing, Iô Cecilia, Cecilia.”

The span of nine years between Welcome to all the Pleasures and the year 1692 when Hail! Bright Cecilia was first performed witnessed a significant increase in Purcell’s professional activities. He composed all kinds of vocal music during this time, and created all manner of music—overtures, songs, duets, dance music, incidental music—for countless plays. These experiences served as a tremendous training ground for a composer with Purcell’s natural talent and instincts; indeed, the birthday odes for Queen Mary dating from 1689-94 bear evidence of the fruits of his developing personal style and the technical control gained in composing for increasingly complex forces. The 1692 ode is in a category unto itself. Brady’s poem, derived from John Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” from 1687, is full of references to musical instruments. With an array of vocal soloists, choir, and obbligato instruments at his disposal, Purcell must have taken great delight in finding ways to bring the texts to life via music. This substantial work consists of fourteen movements. The opening Symphony stands on its own as an extended movement consisting of several contrasting sections. The first section is richly appointed, with oboes, trumpets, and timpani lending pomp and gravitas to the familiar ensemble of strings and keyboard. The Symphony continues with a lively Canzona written in imitative style similar to a fugue. In the slow section that follows, Purcell bestows to the pair of oboes not a martial role but a vocal style of writing unusual in England at this time. The Symphony concludes with a return of the majestic gestures and tonalities of the movement’s opening bars. 

Many of the vocal airs found throughout Hail! Bright Cecilia are based on dance forms. “Hark! Each tree its silence breaks” is reminiscent of a quick saraband, English style. Starting from the bottom and moving upwards, this duet for soprano and bass voices is composed over a ground bass. Layered above this are pairs of violins and recorders, which dialogue together and with the two voices. Always sensitive to composing music to fit the text, Purcell writes in a florid style for the word “fly,” uses a crisp, dotted rhythm for “talk,” and employs a distinctly busy rhythmic pattern for “sprightly.”

In contrast, “Tis Nature’s Voice” is anything but a dance. Composed for countertenor and basso continuo, the spare yet supportive basso continuo hands the reins to the vocalist, allowing flexible interpretation of the timing of the phrases and a flexible approach to executing the florid and virtuosic ornamentation. Printed in the Gentleman’s Journal from an issue dated November 1692, was the following:

The following ode [‘Hail, bright Cecilia’] was admirably set to music by Mr. Henry Purcell and performed twice with universal applause, particularly the second stanza [beginning “Tis Nature’s voice’], which was sung with incredible graces by Mr. Henry Purcell himself.

In a demonstrably brilliant work from start to finish, the impact of the chorus “Soul of the World” is particularly remarkable. The opening of this movement, set to the text, “Soul of the world, inspir’d by thee,” possesses a magically uplifting quality. Purcell’s use of an ascending motive passed from voice to voice creates an overall feeling of ascension despite the anchoring of the sustained pedal in the bass in the opening measures. Purcell engineers an abrupt shift to a homophonic setting of the text in the next phrase, ensuring the clarity of “jarring, jarring seeds.” During the course of the movement, intricate passagework that is fugal in nature depicts “scatter’d atoms bind” and poignant dissonances emphasize arrival points.  “Soul of the World” ends leaving the listeners wanting more. Is it an intentional ploy by this composer to prompt a virtual turning of the page, everyone eager for delights still to be revealed?

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