Henry Purcell – Service in B flat major, I-II

Service in B flat major (Morning, Communion and Evening Services), Z. 230 (ca. 1681)

I. Benedicite omnia opera
II. Cantate Domino
III. Deus misereatur
IV. Magnificat
V. Nunc dimittis

Francis Grier, organ
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
The English Concert
Trevor Pinnock, director
Simon Preston

Purcell’s ‘Complete Service’ in B flat, a setting of ten canticles, though not unique, is a comparative rarity for its time. Alongside a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (and their alternatives, the Cantate Domino and Deus misereatur) for performance at Evensong, Purcell wrote a Te Deum, Benedictus, Benedicite and Jubilate for Morning Service and Kyrie and Nicene Creed for the Communion service. The setting must have been extremely useful to cathedral and other choirs for the service appears, either complete or in part, in numerous different manuscripts all over Britain and has been included on service lists almost ever since. Compared to the anthems, the B flat service settings appear conservative, the harmony usually remaining relatively simple and often homophonic. However, they do contain ingenious canonic and other contrapuntal devices, and their choruses alternate with sections of verse which are usually split between three upper and three lower solo voices. A payment of thirty shillings is registered in the accounts of Westminster Abbey for Michaelmas 1681 ‘for writing Mr Purcell’s service and anthem’. [hyperion-records.co.uk]

In this recording, the B flat service is represented by Benedicite (for Morning Prayer) and by Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, with their respective alternatives Cantate Domino and Deus Misereatur (for evening prayer). When listening it must be realized that these numbers were not designed to be heard in unbroken succession, but in pairs, separated by a Scripture reading or prayers, at three different services.

Art by Jaume Huguet

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