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.
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, allude to the Aeneid, the Roman legend of the Trojan warrior Aeneas, travelling to Italy from the betrayed and fallen Troy in order to settle there and secure his son Ascanius's lineage. Their ship is blown off course from Sicily, and they land on the shore of North Africa, in Carthage, a town newly settled by refugees from Tyre. Aeneas falls in love with their queen, Dido, but dutifully departs for Italy leaving her. Distraught at his betrayal, she orders a pyre to be built and set ablaze so that Aeneas will see from his ship that she has killed herself. She sings the lament before stabbing herself as Aeneas sails on.
- 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.
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 Anglo-French film The Man Who Cried (2000), the soundtrack to the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (renamed Nixon's Walk) and the soundtrack to the 2008 Agatha Christie's Poirot adaptation of Appointment with Death. It is also used as the main theme to Downfall, and is movingly sung by the protagonist in the film Mr Turner.
It is played annually in London by the massed bands of the Guards Division, setting the scene at Britain's Cenotaph remembrance parade on the Sunday nearest to November 11 (Armistice Day) in Whitehall, prior to the Queen of the United Kingdom's arrival.
- 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": Scores at the International Music Score Library Project