Purcell’s “Hear My Prayer, O Lord”: VOCES8

Westminster Abbey was a prominent fixture in the life of Henry Purcell.

Purcell was born in 1659 in a notorious slum known as The Devil’s Acre, which fell in the shadow of the soaring Gothic edifice. At the age of twenty, he succeeded the composer John Blow to become Organist and Master of the Choristers for Westminster Abbey. Purcell’s grave lies in the Abbey’s north aisle near the historic location of the organ. It’s a prominent location which befits one of the greatest and most influential English composers.

Purcell composed the eight part choral anthem, Hear my prayer, O Lord, around 1682 at the beginning of his tenure at Westminster Abbey. It is a setting of the poignant first verse of Psalm 102: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my crying unto thee…” It begins with a desolate, weeping single vocal line which reaches up a minor third before falling back. As the other voices enter, majestic, aspirational lines reach upward to form a celestial embrace. The striking dissonance of the climax is simultaneously anguished and sensuous.

It is possible that this gradual, cosmic crescendo was intended to be part of a longer work which was never completed. Several blank pages follow in the autograph manuscript which is held at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Yet I think you will agree that, ultimately, this brief work communicates all that needs to be said.

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Featured Image: Westminster Abbey in the winter

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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