It is included in many classical music textbooks on account of its exemplary use of the passus duriusculus in the ground bass. The conductor Leopold Stokowski wrote a transcription of the piece for symphony orchestra.
"Dido's Lament" has been performed or recorded by artists far from the typical operatic school, such as Klaus Nomi (as "Death"), Ane Brun and Jeff Buckley. It has also been transcribed or used in many scores, including the soundtrack to the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (renamed "Nixon's Walk") and as the main theme to Downfall. It is played annually (by a military band) at the Cenotaph remembrance ceremony, which takes place on the Sunday nearest to November 11 (Armistice Day) in London's Whitehall.
The opening recitative secco, "Thy hand, Belinda", is accompanied by continuo only. Word painting is applied on the text "darkness" and "death" which is presented with chromaticism, symbolic of death.
"Dido's Lament" opens with a descending chromatic fourth line, the ground bass, which is repeated eleven times throughout the aria, thus structuring the piece in the form of a ciaccona. The meter is 3/2 in the key of G minor. Henry Purcell has applied word painting on the words "laid", which is also given a descending chromatic line portraying death and agony, and "Remember me", which is presented in a syllabic text setting and repeated with its last presentation leaping in register with a sudden crescendo displaying her desperate cry with urgency as she prepares for her fate: death. In one interpretation Dido's relationship with Aeneas is portrayed in this moment as an "apocalyptic romance."
The text, and the Purcell opera are alluding to the Roman legend of the Aeneid, the story of a Trojan Warrior Aeneas, seeking Italy in order to settle there and secure his son's lineage. Aeneas is blown off course from Sicily, and lands on the shores of Northern Africa, in Carthage, a recently settled city of former Tyrians. Their queen is Dido, with whom Aeneas has a love affair, before departing for Italy and leaving Dido alone. She becomes so distraught that she orders for a large pyre to be placed, on which she plans to impale herself, and be set ablaze so that Aeneas will see from his ship. This is perhaps the most poignant part of the legend, and ends at the culmination of Book IV.
- Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
- On thy bosom let me rest,
- More I would, but Death invades me;
- Death is now a welcome guest.
- When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
- No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
- Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
- Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
The music forms the basis for the opening movement of the Fourth Symphony, 'Chiaroscuro' (itself entitled Illumination) by the American composer Gloria Coates.
- Kapilow, Robert (2008). All You Have to Do Is Listen, p. 151. ISBN 978-0-470-38544-9.
- www.cpdl.org Dido's Lament is mvmt. 37/38 in this edition of the score
- "Didos Lament": Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project