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Work

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell Composer

Sound the Trumpet, Beat the Drum (Welcome Ode for James II), Z.335   

Performances: 5
Tracks: 5
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Musicology:
  • Sound the Trumpet, Beat the Drum (Welcome Ode for James II), Z.335
    Year: 1687
    Genre: Other Choral
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
Purcell's Sound the trumpet was first performed in October 1687, after James II had returned to London from his summer at Oxford. Because James' birthday was October 14, and there are no surviving Birthday Odes for him, some writers have suggested that Sound the trumpet and other Welcome Songs for James are actually Birthday Odes, rather than Welcome Songs. On Purcell's manuscript of the piece, however, he wrote, "Welcome Song 1687." The author of the text is unknown. As in most of these cantata-like works, the orchestra consists of strings.

The duet, "Let Caesar and Urania live," became so popular apart from the Welcome Song that for the next 80 years, composers (including William Boyce) occasionally inserted it into their own works. For two countertenors and with a ground bass, "Let Caesar and Urania live" is an early example of a type of piece that appears in a number of Purcell's other odes, such as "Sound the trumpet," in Come ye sons of war, away, Z. 323.

After opening with an overture in the French style, the first vocal movement begins in a grand manner, with the alto soloist imitating the first instrument and the bass soloist following the second. When the chorus enters, it is in a powerful homophonic texture and accompanied by lively string figurations.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about Sound the trumpet is Purcell's handling of the orchestra. In earlier works by both Purcell and others, the orchestra plays mainly in the overture and instrumental interludes. In Sound the trumpet, however, Purcell accompanies the recitatives and choruses with the orchestra, without doubling the voices. The string parts are usually as interesting as the voices, making for a lively, intricate texture. Also striking is a lengthy instrumental passage that is a chaconne in F major on a ground bass. It is possible that this unusually long section (128 measures) was meant to accompany a dance. Purcell introduced the chaconne into the semi-opera King Arthur a few years later.

All the choruses feature brief string interludes between phrases, and in "With plenty surrounding" the upper strings have such a degree of independence that there are, at times, seven parts to the texture. "While Caesar, like the morning star" is a for solo bass accompanied by four string parts, the first of many such numbers in Purcell's odes.

Impressively illustrative is Purcell's setting of the text, "His fame, like incense, mounts the skies." After the bass soloist climbs to a high E natural on "skies," he holds the note as the string progress downward, giving the impression of a cloud of incense lingering high above the ground. Also, the bass plumbs the depths with a low D natural at "the deep abyss below." The finale is the high point of the piece. The last verse is treated four times in all, with different lines performed by different soloists or combinations of voices.

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