Abdelazer - The Moor's Revenge

Henry PURCELL arr. Jackson

Notes - The original:

Purcell wrote these pieces of incidental music for Aphra Behn's 1677 play "Abdelazer - The Moor's Revenge". It is a compelling tale:

"The old King of Spain, having conquered Fez and killed the Moorish monarch, has taken the orphaned prince Abdelazer under his protection and in time made him General. Abdelazer, though always courageous, has the desire of revenge always uppermost, and to gain influence, rather than from any love, he becomes the Queen's paramour. She, being a lustful and wicked woman, joins with the Moor in poisoning her husband. 'Tis now that dead time of night, when Murders are hid beneath the horrid veil of Darkness. They declaim, "On me this music lost? - This sound on me that hates all softness?"  

The old King being dead, his younger son, Philip, newly returned victor from war, leaving his army at some distance, rushes in mad with rage and publicly accuses his mother of adultery with Abdelazer. She is greatly incensed, but Cardinal Mendoso, as protector of the King, promptly banishes her gallant. The new King Ferdinand, however, to please Florella, Abdelazer's wife, whom he loves, revokes the banishment.  

Abdelazer, in revenge, next orders his native officer Osmin to kill Philip and the Cardinal. They escape by night disguised as monks, whilst Abdelazer alarms the castle with cries of "Treason" and tells the King that Philip and the Cardinal are plotting to murder him. Ferdinand orders Abdelazer to follow them, intending to pay an amorous visit to Florella during her husband's absence. Abdelazer, fully aware of this plan, out of pride and mischief furnishes Florella with a dagger, bidding her stab the King if he persists in his suit. Elvira, the Queen Mother's confidante, watches the king enter Florella's apartment and conveys the news to her Mistress who, with dissembled reluctance, informs Alonzo, the Moor's brother-in-law. Florella resists the King's solicitations and produces a dagger, threatening to stab herself. At this juncture the Queen rushes in and, pretending to think that Florella was about to attempt the King's life, kills her. Her motive for this deed is, in reality, jealousy.  

Whilst the King falls weeping at his dead mistress's feet, Abdelazer enters, and in the ensuing fight, Ferdinand is slain. Philip is then proclaimed King, but Abdelazer, announcing that Philip is in fact illegitimate, an avowal backed by the Queen, declares himself Protector of Spain. Alonzo flees to Philip's camp with the tidings and a battle between the two parties follows, and although the Moors are at first beaten back they now gain advantage and Philip is captured.  

At a general assembly of the nobles the Queen relates a false tale of Philip's illegitimacy and asserts that Cardinal Mendozo is his father. He is arrested as a traitor. Abdelazer now brings forward the Infanta Leonora and proclaims her Queen of Spain. He next disposes of the Queen Mother by bidding Roderigo, a creature of his own, assassinate her forthwith. Roderigo, disguised as a friar, stabs her, upon which Abdelazer rushes in and cuts him down. He next openly declares his love for Leonora and is about to ravish her when Osmin, his officer, enters to inform him that Alonzo, Leonora's fiancé, has resisted arrest but is at last secured. Abdelazer, enraged at the interruption, wounds Osmin in the arm. Leonora pities the blow; and the Moorish soldier, deeply hurt at the insult, resolves to betray his master. He accordingly goes to prison where Philip, the Cardinal and Alonzo are confined, and sets them free. When Abdelazer enters he finds himself entrapped. He glories, however, in his crimes, and as they set on him, kills Osmin, himself falling dead in the melee. The Cardinal is forgiven, Leonora and Alonzo are united, whilst Philip ascends the throne."  

 This arrangement - some performance notes: 

These orchestrations of Purcell's original suite for string quartet emphasise the extravagant melodrama of both music and play. Performances of the suite can be enlivened still further by reciting the text between musical numbers.

Although the pieces sound best when played on the instruments given, they work well with smaller forces, in fact, the whole suite can be played perfectly successfully by flute, 2 clarinets, violin and ‘cello.  Other combinations are also possible, for instance; 2 flutes (one playing the oboe part), one clarinet, violin, viola and ‘cello.  Brass, percussion, bassoon and double bass, whilst adding enormously to the dramatic impact of these pieces, never have an essential structural role in the music.

Oboe and viola are involved structurally, but their parts are covered in the score by clarinets and the instruction “Play only if no viola/oboe” is given for bars where they would be missed.

There are other nuances: Phrases marked "SOLO" should be played by single players to refine the orchestral texture.

In keeping with baroque convention, trills should start on the upper note. If there are several players on one part on the woodwind or brass, only one player should execute trills.

Whatever size or shape of orchestra you are using, I hope you enjoy bringing Purcell’s delightful pieces to life in new and surprising ways.

Andy Jackson