IntroductionEditRemember not, Lord, our offences is a choral anthem by English composer Henry Purcell. The text is a passage from the Litany from the Book of Common Prayer. This setting was composed somewhere between 1679 and 1682 in the beginning of Purcell's time as the Organist and Chorus Master for Westminster Abbey.
Although written in the heart of the Middle Baroque period, Remember not, Lord, our offences does not adhere to the typical characteristics. Written for SSATB choir, it is one of Purcell's last anthems to exclude an instrumental accompaniment, although most editions have an optional organ part that simply doubles the voices. This voicing is typical of the Middle Baroque besides the double soprano parts. One theory is that one soprano part was intended for castrati, and the other intended for young boys, and this theory is supported by the cross voicings that are conducive to the different voice types.
Harmonically speaking, this piece does fit in the Middle Baroque with its fast paced harmonic shifts and subscription to major/minor relationships. Purcell also used secondary dominants throughout to explore a wide variety of keys and the relationship of dominant to tonic.
Texturally, he uses a homorhythmic/hymn-like texture to bookend a more contrapuntal, polyphonic middle section. While it is atypical of the Middle Baroque to have these textures, the hymn-like beginning and end employ the hierarchy of a more homophonic texture, including very melodic outer parts.
A side by side view of this piece and the opera or oratorio of the Baroque shows us how very different two pieces of music from the same time period can be. It seems that in general, we oversimplify the stylistic traits of each period by only paying attention to the changes in music. While it is true that music has evolved as a whole, I believe Purcell is letting his ear guide a very heartfelt text. Of course, the labels we provide as periods did not exist until later, and this is apparent in many of Purcell's anthems.
I chose this piece, simply because I enjoy it on a personal level. It has a wonderful text that is universally sacred, and it is purely fun to sing. The voice leading is easy yet interesting, no part is boring, and above all, it sounds good. I find this to be a very accessible piece of music from the Baroque period.
Bonds, Mark Evans. A History of Music in Western Culture. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2013.
Holman, Peter, et al. "Purcell." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 23, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/41799pg3.
Plank, Steven. "Purcell, the Anthem, and the Culture of Preaching." The Musical Times. no. 1908 (2009): 17-30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25597636 (accessed March 23, 2014).