About this work
Henry Purcell composed anthems throughout his short life and several distinct national styles commingled in these pieces. Purcell took 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. In some sense, then, each of his anthems presents a unique mixture. Purcell's full anthem (that, is anthem with choir alone) Rejoice in the Lord Alway, datable through an autographed manuscript, has as its most unique feature the balance of its repetitive form; one scholar called it "almost a rondeau." Much of the piece's charm also derives from this feature. Throughout the work, the composer 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 Alway 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. Rather than the regal dotted-rhythm march of the French symphonic overture, Purcell chose to open this anthem with a "ground" bass, in fivefold ostinato, that mimics a descending peal of bells. The upper voices' passagework similarly evoke tintinnabulation. A trio of soloists then introduce their jaunty triple-meter refrain, exposing the main text, "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). A string ritornello echoes it, then the second vocal trio briefly extends the text. Finally, the full choir enters with the refrain; wittily, 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 trio relaxes into a slower duple meter for the benediction "And the peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord." This, too, is echoed by the strings, and a trio of triple refrains (again in the order soloists, strings, choir) closes the anthem.