Music for a While

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Oedipus, title page of the play

Music for a While is a song for voice and basso continuo by the English Baroque composer Henry Purcell. It is the second of four movements from his incidental music (Z 583) to Oedipus, a version of Sophocles' play by John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee, published in 1679. The song was composed for a revival of the work in 1692.[1]


The voice is accompanied by an instrumental part featuring an ascending ground bass. Additional harmonies would have been supplied by the musicians playing continuo.[2] The Basso Continuo is different in this piece because it is only three bars long, instead of the traditional four.

The piece is also called a dramatic recitative, or a da capo aria.

The structure of the music is ground bass structure however the structure of the lyrics is a ternary form, or ABA1 form, with the first and last sections being almost identical.


The piece exists in multiple arrangements, including for solo keyboard and violin and keyboard.


The text is

Music for a while
Shall all your cares beguile.
Wond'ring how your pains were eas'd
And disdaining to be pleas'd
Till Alecto free the dead
From their eternal bands,
Till the snakes drop from her head,
And the whip from out her hands.

The third section repeats the first two lines.


The piece was published posthumously in Orpheus Britannicus.

Music for a While is also featured as a UK GCSE (9-1) set work.


The song is identified with Alfred Deller, the first modern countertenor.[3] He seems to have first recorded it in the 1940s.[4] It also appeared in an Extended Play compilation in the 1950s.


  1. ^ The Ashgate Research Companion to Henry Purcell
  2. ^ North, Nigel (1987). 20for%20a%20while%22&f=false Continuo playing on the lute, archlute, and theorbo Check |url= value (help). Indiana University Press. p. 264. ISBN 0253314151.
  3. ^ Wigmore. "Icon: Alfred Deller". Gramophone. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  4. ^ EMFAQ

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