Rejoice In the Lord Alway by Henry Purcell (1669-1695)

Rejoice in the Lord alway ‘The bell anthem’ is one of the most popular of his anthems of an English organist and Baroque composer of secular and sacred music, Henry Purcell. The composer set Philippians 4:4-7 into music by taken the French-influenced symphony anthem of Pelham Humfrey and added the solo virtuosity of Italian opera and sacred concerto and gave to both his own vigorous rhythmic character, which is so admirably suited to English declamation.

 Text of the Music: Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be careful for nothing;
but in evrything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rather than the regal dotted-rhythm march of the French symphonic overture, Purcell chose to open this anthem with a “ground” bass, in five fold ostinato, that mimics a descending peal of bells. The upper voices' passage work similarly evoke tintinnabulation. You can hear the bells pealing both in the bass part and in the intertwined upper parts where Purcell juxtaposes their joy to bittersweet effect with some typically Purcellian harmonies. This Prelude also has some wonderful writing for strings which is given further depth by the descending scales of the theorbos.

A trio of soloists then make their entrance by exposing the main text (“Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice!” -Philippians 4:4) their eight bars of triple-time is taken up by the strings with a wonderful lyricism the soloists repeat their eight bars followed by a very brief instrumental comment that ends this section. The soloists urge that ‘your moderation be known unto all men’ and the full choir makes its joyful entrance which the soloists intersperse with ‘and again’ this call is taken literally by the instrumentalists who repeat the Symphony in its entirety.

Purcell here composes a dialogue between soloists and choir at the text “and again,” “again,” “again I say rejoice.” Another complete "symphony" follows, and the bass soloist at last presents a more “soloistic” passage as the text continues in an exhortation to prayer. The bass solo which follows ‘Be careful for nothing …‘ calls upon his listeners to engage in prayer and supplication followed by some wonderfully reflective homophony in a slower duple meter for the benediction at ‘and the peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Watch the Performance by “The Harmonious Chorale”: 

The strings echoed this idea but they are superceded by the trio choir return to their triple time eight bar rendition of Rejoice in the Lord always …. The anthem closes with a brief ritornello and the return of the refrain accompanied by the trio choir’ cries of ‘and again’ in the order soloists, strings, choir.

Throughout the work, Purcell carefully counterpoises not only instrumental ritornelli, but a soli vocal refrain. The soloists for most of the anthem thus do not serve their usual function of ornamented verse declamation, but rather act as a third antiphonal concerto group. Rejoice in the Lord Always apparently achieved its nickname the "Bell Anthem" at an early date: an eighteenth century copy in the British Library calls it "Rejoice...with a Symphony imitating Bells" and refers to an earlier tradition of the nickname.

Purcell legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers; no other native-born English composer approached his fame until Edward Elgar.

Download The Music Score HERE

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