As a diversion from Bach I was listening yesterday in the car to a lovely album of Purcell from Voces8 – including a beautiful rendition of his song Fairest Isle (words by Dryden) from the semi-opera King Arthur (1691).
I started singing Wesley’s hymn, Love Divine all loves excelling, to the same tune and realised how well it fitted. Consulting Wikipedia I discovered that indeed the hymn was originally written to the tune of that song, using the words of the first stanza as a model for Wesley’s own first verse.
While Dryden had written the following:
Fairest Isle, all isles excelling,
Seat of pleasures, and of loves;
Venus here, will choose her dwelling,
And forsake her Cyprian groves.
Wesley’s is as follows:
Love Divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown.
What is more the latest Methodist Hymnbook, Hymns and Psalms, contains the hymn set to Purcell’s tune in a version from John Wesley’s Sacred Harmony of 1780.
It’s a haunting melody and wonderful words that ought to be re-united more often, as here.