Welcome to All the Pleasures is one of the Odes written for the celebration of St. Cecilia’s Day byHenry Purcell. The libretto is by Christopher Fishburn. Purcell had been writing Odes for the Royal Family since 1680, but in 1683 the Musical Society of London commissioned him to write an ode in honor of the public celebration of the feast of St. Cecilia. The “Musical Society” was a group of amateur and professional musicians that had organized a festival for the “great patroness of music.” It was the first year of their festival and Purcell was their first commissioned composer. Purcell composed the work for three solo voices, chorus, four-part strings, and continuo. Formally, he produces a concerto grosso effect when he balances the trio of voices (concertino) against the chorus and orchestra (ripieno).
The opening symphony has two movements; one maestoso and the second vivace. The maestoso is full of suspensions and canonic entrances and has a full texture. The vivace is contrapuntal throughout. The words “Welcome to all the Pleasures” are set on imitative entrances. When each voice proclaims “Welcome!,” an echo of invitations is produced. “Hail Great Assembly” breaks out in fugal style. The movement ends with an instrumental ritornello.
Here the Deities Approve is a countertenor solo written over a three measure ground bass. The vocal line is lyrical and plastic; the countertenor soars above the rest of the ensemble. There follows a string ritornello. Throughout this ode Purcell uses instruments at least as much as the voices. While joys Celestial sets joys on dotted rhythmic figures, and places the word “Celestial” on a falling, augmented dotted figure. The effect is joyful and celestial. Then there follows an instrumental ritornello based on the dotted rhythmic theme. Purcell imitates and varies this theme within a highly contrapuntal texture.
Then Lift up your Voices features a solo and chorus. Again the chorus begins with imitative entrances, but eventually comes together in homophony. Afterwards there is a solo harpsichord interlude, which can be played extemporaneously, making for a beautiful respite from the rest of the ode. Beauty, thou scene of love is a beautiful tenor solo. The solo is in two sections, the first of which is repeated. The ritornello takes over the solo line from the tenor voice as Purcell sets it in an inventive four-part contrapuntal style.
In a consort of voices has a diatonic, joyful melody in E major, and adds a bright feeling to the movement. The tenor voice has a solo based on the opening theme, and soon the chorus enters canonically. One of the most striking aspects of this movement is Purcell’s setting of the name “Cecilia,” which he repeats many times in all the voices and registers. He sets the music to the sound of the word. He ends the piece by having the singers drop out one by one, starting with the treble voices. Finally the bass is left alone to quietly sing the final “Ce-cil-ia.”
Liana Brook Guberman, Soprano
Jenny Green, Soprano
Alexandra Lushtak, Soprano
Christopher Sokolowski, Tenor
Christian Zaremba, Bass
Hudson Valley Chamber Singers,
Hudson Valley Singers,
Anastasia Dedik, Harpsichord
Eu, Harpsichord, organ, direction