Dido's Lament, "When I am laid in earth," from Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, performed on original instruments. Anna Dennis, soprano, with Voices of Music. 4K ultra high definition video from the Great Poets concert, January, 2015.
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At the end of the 17th century, the English composer Henry Purcell wrote many compositions on a ground bass; this one is his best: each note is perfectly placed, and the deceptively simple lines of the string parts flow from one phrase to the other, creating an accompaniment that is at once homophonic and yet always made up of individual parts. The opening of the aria begins with the bass sounding a chromatic line spanning a fourth, a technique dating back to the chromatic fantasias of Dowland and Sweelinck in the early 17th century.
The meter and lines of the opening recitative are striking: four fragmented lines of text with syllables of nine, seven, eight and seven are reinforced with mismatched words which do not easily form a meter, creating a metrical dissonance; the disintegration of the formal conventions of poetry mirrors the imminent destruction of Dido. The tension and dissonance of the conflicting meters and lines is only resolved in the last line of the aria, which is classical iambic pentameter: "Remember me, but ah! forget my fate." The repetition of the last line creates the impression, both musically and textually, of a heroic couplet, accentuating the closure of Dido's final scene.
Voices of Music
Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler
Carla Moore & Gabrielle Wunsch, baroque violins
Lisa Grodin, baroque viola
Elisabeth Reed, baroque cello
David Tayler, archlute
Hanneke van Proosdij, baroque organ
Text by Nahum Tate, poet laureate
Recit Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me, On thy bosom let me rest, More I would, but Death invades me; Death is now a welcome guest.
When I am laid in earth
May my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate,
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.