Among all his remarkable and varied compositional talents, Purcell was the supreme craftsman when it came to setting his native language to music. Addison wrote of Purcell’s ‘Tunes so wonderfully adapted to his Words’ and Playford, in his introduction to the first volume of Orpheus Britannicus (1706) commented that ‘The Author’s extraordinary Tallent in all sorts of music, is sufficiently known; but he was particularly admir’d for his Vocal, having a peculiar Genius to express the Energy of English Words, whereby he mov’d the Passions as well as caused Admiration in all his Auditors’. Purcell combined an innate sense of the natural rhythms of speech and a wonderful melodic flair with a richness of harmonic language that few composers have ever matched.
Only some twenty works out of what was originally a far greater number of secular cantatas have survived in performable condition. They nevertheless offer a welcome complement to our image of Bach the church musician, and reveal a composer who approached secular music with the same artistic integrity and demand for quality that we find in his sacred music.
This was the last of the wonderful series of fifteenth-century song sets issued by L'Oiseau-Lyre Florilegium under the initiative of the late Peter Wadland. Like the others—the complete Dufay songs and the complete Chansonnier Cordiforme—it was hardly intended for continuous listening throughout and therefore sits far better in CD format, where songs can be selected individually and repeated for more concentrated listening. Also like the others, it is a touch uneven in quality: perhaps two-thirds of the pieces here receive magnificent performances that go straight to the centre of the music, while a few merely skim the surface.
Prior to the Spanish Inquisition, peace, tolerance, and shared learning existed. This shared knowledge influenced all subjects from the sciences to the arts. The music composed and performed during this time was about being in the moment: Some pieces tell stories–'Cancionera de la Columbina' for example–while others express emotions, as in the 'Romances.' Interestingly enough, the "non-Jewish" selections were written during the Inquisition, while the Sephardic selections were written right before it.