Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (1695)

In reaction to the music of the Gothic period and the Renaissance, which was sometimes excessively polyphonic, Baroque music starts to set itself apart by introducing monodic elements. Later, vocal Baroque music is characterized by the juxtaposition of polyphony and homophony, either the one immediately after the other and therefore clearly separate, or also merged. Henry Purcell, for example, makes use of this technique in his Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (1695), also performed for his own funeral in Westminster Abbey eight months later in the same year. In the fourth movement, the four voices pursue each other and mix in the traditional polyphonic style as though despairingly searching for comfort (In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour…). Then they unite in homophony, i. e. in their hope for solace (…but of thee, O Lord?). Even though the worshippers are still inwardly torn by doubts, which are expressed by yet another sequence of polyphony (who for our sins art justly displeased), their actual invocation (Yet, O Lord, most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour) is again uttered in unison. Chromatic and polyphonic scales symbolize restlessness and fear of punishment (deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal…). In the face of death, where everyone is equal, all men sing with one homophonic accord.

Back to "The Metaphysicals"