Monday Music: The Cold Genius (Henry Purcell)

It was absolutely necessary that I find a counter-tenor song for today, since I’m still so very disappointed that Cezar‘s magnificent counter-tenor effort on Eurovision didn’t do better, but it’s after midnight as I schedule this, and I have to work tomorrow, so was really not up for trolling the internet in search of the perfect piece of music.

Fortunately, it turns out that I had, stashed away in my list of things to write about, Andreas Scholl singing the Aria “What Power art Thou”, also known as the song of the Cold Genius, from Purcell’s King Arthur.

I’m not entirely sure what the plot of King Arthur is.  From all I can gather, it is technically about King Arthur fighting the Saxons, but it also seems to owe a lot to Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest.  This song seems to be sung by a spirit of frost or ice, summoned by one of King Arthur’s enemies.  I love it for the way the voice of the singer seems to shudder and jerk with cold even as he sings.

Scholl sings it beautifully – he really sounds desperately, desperately cold, as he should. I don’t always like the way he uses his voice, but he is perfect here.

It is, apparently, more common now for this aria to be sung by a baritone – here’s a very lovely performance by Petteri Salomaa, which goes more slowly and to my mind gives less of a sense of chill, but more one of something frozen that is just beginning to come to life and consciousness.

Or you could go with this rather strange version, sent to me by my friend Geoffrey, from a stage production of King Arthur.  Despite the fact that in this version you can actually see what is happening onstage, I personally find myself even more confused about what’s going on than I was in the versions without visuals…

Of course, now I want to know what Cezar would do with this song.  And whether it would involve half-naked backing dancers…


One thought on “Monday Music: The Cold Genius (Henry Purcell)

  1. Elettaria says:

    This one is definitely growing on me. The first is certainly very evocative, but I think the second is the one that really does it for me. I might even try singing it, though I doubt I’m remotely good enough. Still, it’ll be interesting to play with, and I’ve just found it on MuseScore. Thank you so much for recommending that, by the way.


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