The songs are from near the third and final Act of Dido and Aeneas, with the plot concerning the tragic love of Queen Dido of Carthage for the Trojan hero Aeneas. Aeneas loves Dido, but he is tricked and is forced to leave her. The singer is in grieving and wants to die, and she asks Belinda for comfort. When I am Laid in Earth is widely referred to as Dido’s Lament. It is included in many classical music textbooks because of the exemplary use of passus duriusculus in the main bass (Hardie, 2016). Short recitative Thy Hand Belinda then proceeds with the aria. Both arias are made on a Lamento ground bass. In the paper sample, the texture is two-part, implying the presence of singer and continuo. Analyzing Purcell’s melody, one can come to the inevitable conclusion that he concentrates not so much on details as on general characteristics. The texture on paper has two parts – with singer and continuo. Basso continuo parts provide a harmonious structure to the music, providing bass line and chord progression. However, Thy Hand Belinda‘s opening secco recitative is accompanied only by continuo. At the same time, the archlute player suggests improvised harmonic infilling, directed by the figuring; the slow-moving harmonic accompaniment is heard (Dzuschin, 2014).
The melody is chromatic; the song is played at 127 Beats Per Minute (Allegro), or 32 Measures/Bars Per Minute; rhythm is free (Hardie, 2016). The verbal ‘painting’ is applied to the text of darkness, which is presented with chromatism, symbolizing death. Purcell tries to mirror speech rhythm. areaaria is characterized by strong emotional unity musically; in particular, it is the result of much textual and musical repetition. It is founded on a ground bass hever repeatedly in the bass part. Dido’s Lament begins with a descending chromatic fourth line, the ground bass. In When I am Laid in Earth, the melody swirls over the submissive descending ground bass line. Unlike Thy Hand Belinda, with its homophony with the dominance of melody, the aria begins with a statement of the ground bass alone – monophony. The descent implies moving in a chromatic way, in expecting of the chromatically descending ground bass in frames of this aria. Then, the aria manifests a direct chromatic descent to the bass; during this, it repeats much more insistently and at the same pitch. A composer’s most direct tool for wword-paintingis melodic shape. Using tempo, Purcell paints the word ‘storm’ with a melisma, with the aim to conjure up the impression of a storm. This contrasts to the painting of the word “soft,” a few bars later, applying a sighing, descending semitone. It should be noted that the phrase structures of the voice part and of the ground bass usually do not match. The most effective impression is provided by light high-pitched unity between recitative and aria. The violins play softly, but not loud orchestral accompaniment does not mean lack of passion moments in the vocal part. Without the bass violinist, the song could unlikely be impressive.
Dzuschin (2014). Purcell: Dido and Aeneas– “Thy Hand, Belinda…When I Am Laid in Earth” [Video]. YouTube. Web.
Hardie, P. (2016). The last Trojan Hero: A cultural history of Virgil’s Aeneid. I. B. Tauris.