Now that the sun hath veiled his light

Henry Purcell

Now that the sun hath veiled his light


About this work

Now that the sun hath veil'd his light, Z. 193, was published in 1688 in Henry Playford's Harmonia Sacra, or Divine Hymns and Dialogues. The first piece in the collection, Now that the sun is subtitled "An Evening Hymn on a Ground." A second volume of Harmonia Sacra appeared in 1693 with several more pieces by Purcell. In Playford's publication, the song gives only the voice and bass parts, with only seven measures showing bass figures. Later editions contain figures or realized accompaniments by editors.

The text of "Now that the sun hath veil'd his light" is by Dr. William Fuller, bishop of Lincoln. As the narrator puts himself to bed, he wonders, "But where, where shall my soul repose?" He hopes it is in the arms of his "Dear God" and is thankful that he has had many days of life. Purcell sets Fuller's rumination on an evening prayer with serene music in G major.

Purcell's ground bass is simple and descending, behaving like an ornamented G major passacaglia. A repeated pattern of three half notes descends stepwise, then rises a step to begin again. This happens for four measures, falling from G to B. In the fifth measure, the bass rises through C to D, then the pattern begins again. Purcell, as usual, avoids the potential monotony of the ground bass song by altering the voice part often and to such a degree that it covers the manifold repetitions of the bass. Nearly every line of the poem is repeated, but to melodies of different shape and length. However, these irregular phrases have common motives, such as those setting the two appearances of "To the soft" and "Then to thy rest." Also, the motive setting the words "singing" is the basis for the extended "Alleluia," which Purcell added to Fuller's text.

As in "Music for a while" (From Oedipus), Z. 583, Purcell transposes the ground bass in order to modulate in the middle of the song. In "Now that the sun," the G major ground first moves up a third, at "And can there be," allowing a foray into B minor. At the repetition of this line, Purcell pushes to the dominant (D major) through A major. Before the "Alleluia," the piece returns to G major, but in the course of this new section, which is as long as the preceding song, we hear other brief modulations before a final dotted-rhythm melisma and a close on G major.