Music for a Monday: Music for a while shall all your cares beguile (Henry Purcell)

This is truly beautiful.

Purcell is one of my favourite composers, and this sort of music, that floats sweetly and delicately along, with gentle little ornaments just drifting in effortlessly is a delight both to sing and to listen to.  So soothing… just what you need on a Monday morning, yes?

Also, while you are sitting there listening to beautiful voices and being soothed, you suddenly hear something about snakes dropping from someone’s hair, which wakes you up nicely just in time for the extra ornamentation on the repeat.  In case you were wondering, I believe the snakes in question are actually supposed to be in Alecto’s hair, since she is one of the three furies (the one who is unceasing in anger, to be precise).

So you don’t have to worry about some poor woman having snakes in her hair.  Instead you can worry about some poor Greek hero being chased by a rather scary trio of demi-goddesses who are armed with whips, snakey hair, bat-wings and many other fun things.  I feel better already…

Oh alright, here are the full lyrics:

Music for a while shall all your cares beguile, wondering how your pains were eased and disdaining to be pleased til Alecto free the dead from their eternal bonds, til the snakes drop from her hair and the whip from out her hand… Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.

To be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure how to parse that, beyond the first phrase.  Any ideas?

Here’s another, somewhat slower and more wistful version, sung by counter-tenor Daniel Taylor.  I’m not usually partial to countertenors, but this is rather lovely.  I think I may even prefer it to the one by Carolyn Sampson.

Happy Monday!


3 thoughts on “Music for a Monday: Music for a while shall all your cares beguile (Henry Purcell)

  1. Elettaria says:

    I’d heard the name of the song before, but never realised how beautiful it was, nor how…strange…the lyrics. I’d always assumed it would be a random bit of Shakespeare, actually. I hadn’t quite expected snakes and whips. Even as a Dowland fan, used to singing love poetry with random crucifixion imagery thrown in for fun, I find this a bit odd. Maybe he was simply writing about BDSM? Or he was high?


    • Catherine says:

      Neither had I – I found it in one of my Purcell books after my exam, and it was very soothing, even (especially!) with the gratuitous snakey hair stuff.

      And yes, I am currently working on the A minor version – it’s too beautiful and suits my voice too well not to make it as gorgeous as possible!

      (sorry, I only just saw this comment when your second one came through – I don’t quite have my notifications sorted yet)


  2. Elettaria says:

    Ooh, the advantage of this song being so very old is that you can download the sheet music online free. In several different keys, with different interpretations of the figured bass for each. Although not all versions bother with the words, so the F minor will have to wait until I’ve memorised the words. I got on quite well with the A minor, and just about managed not to giggle at the dropping snakes bit. Have you been singing it?


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