The Coldest Song Ever Made

Cold Genius

Temperatures are plummeting in the UK. I took a stroll the other morning and freezing fog left me covered in a frosting of ice — rather fun. The situation reminded me of Purcell's What Power Art Thou (Cold Genius). I hummed the song all the way to the newsagents through chattering teeth.

The song is from from the semi-opera King Arthur, with libretto by John Dryden. In the opera, King Arthur's Britons are warring with the Saxons, with British legend and Norse mythology stirred liberally into the plot.

In the Frost Scene of Act Three, the Saxon magician Osmond is trying to woo Emmeline, daughter of Conon, the Duke of Cornwall. He presents a masque by conjuring a frozen landscape and summoning the spirits of Cupid (the spirit of love) and Cold Genius (the spirit of winter) in an effort to show Emmeline how love can thaw her coldness towards him.

Cupid wakes Cold Genius, who responds with the lines:
What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow
From beds of everlasting snow?
See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely move or draw my breath?
Let me, let me freeze again to death.
Baritone Christopher Purves looks fittingly perished as Cold Genius in the video below. He is accompanied by Emmanuelle Haim and Le Concert d'Astrée. A recording is available here.


  1. It's a bit hot Down Under right now but this is still a great piece of music. In fact, Purcell's King Arthur is an all-year-round treat for the ears and can be listened to wearing a deer stalker or a panama.

    1. Thanks Bertie. The search is on for the warmest song ever made for our Australian brethren at this time of year. Best wishes, Tweedy


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