Purcell, Henry

views updated May 18 2018

Purcell, Henry (b London, 1659; d London, 1695). Eng. composer and organist. Son of Thomas Purcell, one of the King's musicians. Boy chorister of Chapel Royal. Studied with Humfrey and Blow. In 1674 he was appointed tuner of Westminster Abbey org. and at 18, in 1677, he succeeded Matthew Locke as ‘composer to the King's violins’ (a str. band of 24 players). He succeeded Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey in 1679. In the following year he pubd. the superb Fantasias for strs., written for his private enjoyment and not for the royal band. From 1680 Purcell began to compose the long series of ‘welcome odes’ and other official choral pieces, his music by far transcending the doggerel of the words. In that year, too, he comp. the first of the incidental mus. he wrote for the London th., for plays by Dryden, Congreve, Shadwell, Brady, Behn, etc. In 1682 he became one of the 3 organists of the Chapel Royal and in 1683 pubd. his sonatas in 3 parts (2 vn., and bass, with organ or hpd.), in the preface to which he admitted that he had attempted a ‘just imitation of the most fam'd Italian masters’. In 1685 his anthem My Heart is Inditing was comp. for the coronation of James II and 4 years later he was involved in the coronation of William III and Mary II. In 1689 his only opera, Dido and Aeneas, was perf. at Josias Priest's boarding-school for girls at Chelsea, but recent research has convincingly suggested that this may have been a revival and that the opera was comp. at least 5 years earlier, probably 1684. In the last few years of his life, Purcell was increasingly prolific, composing some of his greatest church mus. such as the Te Deum and Jubilate in D. In 1695, for Queen Mary's funeral, he comp. an anthem (Thou knowest, Lord, the Secrets of our Hearts), 4 canzonas for brass, and 2 elegies, which are among his most masterly works and were used for his own funeral later the same year.

Purcell's position as among the greatest of Eng. composers was acknowledged in his lifetime, but it was not until the bicentenary of his death that this judgment came to be accepted by later generations. The work of the Purcell Soc. and of composers such as Holst and Vaughan Williams helped to rehabilitate him, and Benjamin Britten of a later generation paid him the compliment of imitation and also restored many of his works to the concert-hall, aided by the 20th-cent. revival of interest in perf. the mus. of Purcell's time in authentic style. Purcell's brilliance of invention, his sense of drama, and the ‘common touch’ which endeared him to his contemporaries (both musicians and non-musicians) give his mus. freshness and immediacy. In Dido and Aeneas, he comp. the first great Eng. opera and set a new standard of sensitivity to words and word-rhythms in addition to displaying rare depths of emotion. Yet it is in the instrumental works that the real genius of Henry Purcell dwells. Prin. works:OPERA: Dido and Aeneas (?1684).SEMI-OPERAS: The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (1690); King Arthur, or The British Worthy (1691); The Fairy Queen (1692); The Indian Queen (1695); The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island (?1695. See Weldon, John).INCIDENTAL MUSIC: Theodosius, or The Force of Love (1680); Amphitryon (1690); Distressed Innocence (1690); The Indian Emperor (1691); The Libertine (?1692); The Double Dealer (1693); Timon of Athens (1694); The Comical History of Don Quixote (1694–5); The Married Beau (1694); Abdelazer (1695); The Mock Marriage (1695); Bonduca, or The British Heroine (1695); The Spanish Friar (1694–5). (See also Songs from Theatre Music, below.)CHORAL: Behold, I Bring you Good Tidings, Christmas anthem (1687); Come ye Sons of Art, ode for Queen Mary's birthday (1694); Elegy on the death of Queen Mary (1695); Jehovah, quam multi, motet; Jubilate Deo in D (1694); Let God arise (1679); Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in G minor; My Beloved Spake (c.1680); My Heart is Inditing, anthem (1685); Now Does the Glorious Day Appear, ode for Queen Mary's birthday (1689); O God, thou art my God, anthem (1682); O God, thou has cast us out, anthem (1682); O Lord God of hosts, anthem (1682); O Sing unto the Lord (1688); Ode for St Cecilia's Day (1683–92); Rejoice in the Lord Alway, the Bell anthem (1684–5); Remember not, Lord, our offences, anthem (1682); Te Deum in D (1694); They that go Down to the Sea in Ships, anthem (1685); Thou knowest, Lord, the Secrets of our Hearts, anthem (Queen Mary's Funeral Music, 1695); Thy Word is a Lantern, anthem (c.1694).SONGS FROM THEATRE MUSIC: Cinthia frowns whene'er I woo her (Distressed Innocence, 1690); O Let me Weep; Turn then thine Eyes (The Fairy Queen, 1692); I Sighed and owned my Love (The Fatal Marriage, 1694); I Attempt from Love's Sickness to Fly (The Indian Queen, 1695); Fairest Isle, all Isles Excelling; Shepherd, Leave Decoying (King Arthur, 1691); Nymphs and Shepherds (The Libertine, ?1692); No, Resistance is but Vain (The Maid's Last Prayer, 1693); Man is for the Woman Made (The Mock Marriage, 1695); Music for a while (Oedipus, 1692); My Dearest, my Fairest; Sweeter than Roses (Pausania, 1695); Arise ye Subterranean Winds; Halcyon Days; See, see, the Heavens Smile (The Tempest, ?1695).SONGS: Ah Cruel Nymph; Bess of Bedlam; Fly Swift, ye Hours; The Father brave; I Lov'd fair Celia (1694); I Vowed to Die a Maid; If Music be the food of Love (3 versions 1692, 1693, 1695); Lord, What is Man? (1693); Love Arms himself in Celia's Eyes (1695); Love, thou art Best; Lovely Albina (1695); Morning Hymn; Now that the Sun hath Veiled his Light (Evening Hymn, 1688); Queen's Epicedium; Sleep, Adam, sleep (1683); Tell me some Pitying Angel (The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, 1693); What a Sad Fate is Mine; When Night her Purple Veil.INSTRUMENTAL: Strings, without continuo: Chacony in G minor, 4 parts; 3 Fantasias, 3 parts (1680); 9 Fantasias, 4 parts (1680); Fantasia upon 1 note, 5 parts; In Nomine, 6 parts; In Nomine, 7 parts; Pavan in G minor, 4 parts. Strings, with continuo: Fantasia on a ground in D, 4 parts; Overtures in G, 4 parts; in D minor, 4 parts; in G minor, 5 parts; 12 Sonatas of 3 parts (1683); 10 Sonatas of 4 parts (pubd. 1697); Sonata in G minor; Suite in G major; Sonata in D for tpt., strs., continuo; Symphoniae sacrae, viol and organ; Trumpet Tune and Air. Brass: March and Canzona for 4 tbs. (Queen Mary's Funeral Music, 1695).KEYBOARD: suites for hpd. (pubd. 1696): No.1 in G, No.2 in G minor, No.3 in G, No.4 in A minor, No.5 in C, No.6 in D, No.7 in D minor, No.8 in F; Musick's Handmaid (1689) in 2 parts (No.9 of part 2 is New Irish tune in G, Lilliburlero); Air in D minor; Fanfare in B♭; Ground in D minor; Hornpipe in E minor; Pavans in A minor and G; Round in D; Toccata in A minor.ORGAN: Voluntary on the Old 100th; Voluntary in G.

Purcell, Henry

views updated Jun 11 2018

Purcell, Henry

Purcell, Henry , great English composer, brother of Daniel Purcell; b. London, 1659; d. Dean’s Yard, Westminster, Nov. 21, 1695. His parentage remains a matter of dispute, since documentary evidence is lacking. His father may have been Henry Purcell (d. Westminster, Aug. 11, 1664), a singer, who was named a “singing-man” and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey (1661) and a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal (1661), where he became a musician-in-ordinary for the lutes and voices (1662). It is possible that his father was Thomas Purcell (d. Westminster, July 31, 1682), a singer and composer, who most likely was the brother of the elder Henry Purcell; Thomas became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal (1661), where he was a/Dennis McIntireitted to the private music for lutes, viols, and voices (1662); with Pelham Humfrey, he served as composer for the violins (from 1672); that same year he was made marshal of the Corp. of Music and a musician-in-ordinary in the King’s Private Musick. Whatever the case, the young Henry Purcell became a chorister of the Chapel Royal under Cooke and Humfrey (1669), and also received instruction from Blow; when his voice broke (1673), he was appointed Assistant Keeper of the Instruments; was named composer-in-ordinary for the violins (1677). He became Blow’s successor as organist of Westminster Abbey (1679) and one of the 3 organists of the Chapel Royal (1682); was named organ maker and keeper of the king’s instruments (1683). His first printed work was a song in Playford’s Choice Ayres (vol. I, 1675); vol. II (1679) contains other songs and an elegy on the death of Matthew Locke. In 1680 he publ. one of his finest instrumental works, the Fantasias for Strings; in that same year he began writing odes and welcome songs; although their texts are almost invariably stupid or bombastic, he succeeded in clothing them in some of his finest music; his incidental music for the stage also dates from that year. He wrote the anthem My Heart is Inditing for the coronation of King James II (1685). With Dido and Aeneas (1689) he produced the first great English opera. In the remaining years of his life he devoted much time to composition for the theater; he also wrote some outstanding sacred music.

Purcell lies in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey, and his burial tablet well expresses contemporary estimation of his worth: “Here lyes Henry Purcell, Esq.; who left this life, and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded.” His church music shows him to be an original melodist, and a master of form, harmony, and all contrapuntal devices; his music for the stage is equally rich in invention, dramatic instinct, and power of characterization; his chamber works surpass those of his predecessors and contemporaries. A complete ed. of Purcell’s works was issued by the Purcell Soc. (London, 1878–1965; 2nd ed., rev., 1974–81).


DRAMATIC: Opera: Dido and Aeneas (London, 1689). Semi-opera: The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (London, 1690); King Arthur, or The British Worthy (London, 1691); The Fairy Queen (London, 1692); The Indian Queen (London, 1695; final masque by D. Purcell); The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island (c.1695). Incidental Music To : N. Lee’s Theodosius, or The Force of Love (1680); T. D’Urfey’s Sir Barnaby Whigg, or No Wit Like a Woman’s (1681); Tate’s The History of King Richard II (The Sicilian Usurper), after Shakespeare (1681); Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Double Marriage (c.1682–85); Lee’s Sophonisba, or Hannibal’s Overthrow (c.1685); D’Urfey’s A Fool’s Preferment, or The 3 Dukes of Dun-stable, after Fletcher’s Noble Gentleman (1688); Dryden’s Amphitryon, or The Two Sosias (1690); E. Settle’s Distressed Innocence, or The Princess of Persia (1690); T. Southerne’s Sir Anthony Love, or The Rambling Lady (1690); Lee’s The Massacre of Paris (1690); C. D’Avenant’s Circe (c.1690); The Gordian Knot Unty’d (1691); Dryden and R. Howard’s The Indian Emperor, or The Conquest of Mexico (1691); Southerne’s The Wives’ Excuse, or Cuckolds Make Themselves (1691); Dryden’s Cleomenes, the Spartan Hero (1692); W. Mountfort and J. Bancroft’s Henry the 2nd, King of England (1692); J. Crowne’s Regulus (1692); Dryden’s Aureng-Zebe (c.1692); Dryden and Lee’s Oedipus (c.1692); T. Shadwell’s The Libertine (c.1692); D’Urfey’s The Marriage-Hater Match’d (1692); Shadwell’s Epsom Wells (1693); W. Congreve’s The Double Dealer (1693); Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and Have a Wife (1693); T. Wright’s The Female Vertuosos, after Molière’s Les Femmes savantes (1693); Southerne’s The Maid’s Last Prayer, or Any Rather than Fail (1693); Congreve’s The Old Bachelor (1693); D’Urfey’s The Richmond Heiress, or A Woman Once in the Right (1693); Dryden’s Love Triumphant, or Nature Will Prevail (1694); E. Ravenscroft’s The Canterbury Guests, or A Bargain Broken (1694); Southerne’s The Fatal Marriage, or The Innocent Adultery (1694); Crowne’s The Married Beau, or The Curious Impertinent (1694); Shadwell’s Timon of Athens, after Shakespeare (1694); Dryden’s Tyrannic Love, or The Royal Martyr (1694); D’Urfey’s The Virtuous Wife, or Good Luck at Last (c.1694); Dryden’s The Spanish Friar, or The Double Discovery (1694–95); D’Urfey’s The Comical History of Don Quixote (1694–95); A. Behn’s Abdelazer, or The Moor’s Marriage (1695); Bonduca, or The British Heroine, after Beaumont and Fletcher (1695); Southerne’s Oroonoko (1695); Norton’s Pausanias, the Betrayer of His Country (1695); T. Scott’s The Mock Marriage (1695); R. Gould’s The Rival Sisters, or The Violence of Love (1695). VOCAL: Numerous anthems and services (c. 1677-c. 1693); Magnificat and Nunc dimitiis (n.d.); Morning and Evening Service (1682); Te Deum and Jubilate (1694); other sacred works; 24 odes and welcome songs; numerous songs for Solo Voice and Continuo; songs for 2 or More Voices and Continuo; catches. INSTRUMENTAL: Various pieces for Winds and Strings, including 14 fantasias, 3 overtures, 5 pavans, 24 sonatas, etc.; many harpsichord pieces.


W. Cummings, P. (London, 1881; 3rd ed., 1911; abr. ed., 1923); J. Runciman, P. (London, 1909); D. Arundell, H. P. (London, 1927); H. Dupre, P. (Paris, 1927; Eng. tr., 1928); A. Holland, H. P.: The English Musical Tradition (London, 1932; 2nd ed., 1948); F. de Quervain, Der Chorstil H. P.’s (Bern, 1935); J. Westrup, P. (London, 1937; 4th ed., rev., 1980); S. Favre-Lingorow, Der Instrumentalstil von P. (Bern, 1950); W. Mainar-dus, Die Technik des Basso Ostinato bei H. P. (diss., Univ. of Cologne, 1950); S. Démarquez, P.: La Vie, l’oeuvre (Paris, 1951); G. van Ravenzwaaij, P. (Haarlem and Antwerp, 1954); R. Sietz, H. P.: Zeit, Leben, Werk (Leipzig, 1956); I. Holst, ed., H. P. (2659–2695): Essays on His Music (London, 1959); R. Moore, H. P. and the Restoration Theatre (London, 1961); M. Laurie, P.’s Stage Works (diss., Cambridge Univ., 1962); D. Schjelderup-Ebbe, P.’s Cadences (Oslo, 1962); F. Zimmerman, H. P., 1659–1695: An Analytical Catalogue of His Music (London, 1963); idem, H. P., 1659–1695: His Life and Times (London, 1967; 2nd ed., rev., 1983); R. Burkart, The Trumpet in England in the Seventeenth Century with Emphasis on Its Treatment in the Works ofH. P. (diss., Univ. of Wise, 1972); I. Spink, English Song: Dowland to P. (London, 1974); F. Zimmerman, H. P. 1659–1695: Melodic and Intervallic Indexes to His Complete Works (Philadelphia, 1975); K. Rohrer, ”The Energy of English Words”: A Linguistic Approach to H. P.’s Methods of Setting Texts (diss., Princeton Univ., 1980); A. Hutch-ings, P. (London, 1982); C. Price, H. P. and the London Stage (Cambridge, 1984); E. Harris, H. P.’s Dido and Aeneas (Oxford, 1987); F. Zimmerman, H. P.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1988); M. Campbell, H. P.: Glory of His Age (London, 1993); M. Burden, ed., The P. Companion (London, 1994); M. Duffy, H. P. (London, 1994); R. King, H. P. (London, 1994); M. Adams, H. P.: The Origins and Development of his Musical Style (Cambridge, 1995) P. Holman, H. P. (Oxford, 1995); J. Keates, P.: A Biography (London, 1995); C. Price, ed., P. Studies (Cambridge, 1995); R. Thompson ,The Glory of the Temple and the Stage: H. P. 1659–1695 (London, 1995); C. Price, ed., A P. Studies(Cambridge ,1995);R.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Purcell, Henry (1659–1695)

views updated May 21 2018

PURCELL, HENRY (16591695)

PURCELL, HENRY (16591695), English composer. Purcell was born in London in 1659, and died there on 21 November 1695, at the age of 36. His father, also named Henry, was a singer in the choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. Henry junior was a boy chorister in the Chapel Royal, and his main teachers were John Blow and Christopher Gibbons; Matthew Locke was also a strong influence.

In the early part of his career Purcell was chiefly concerned with church music. He succeeded Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey in 1679 and became a "gentleman" (adult singer) of the Chapel Royal in 1682. In the last years of the reign of Charles II (16601685) he composed many "symphony anthems" (with string accompaniment) for use in the Chapel, such as the popular Bell Anthem, "Rejoice in the Lord alway" (1683). When in 1685 Charles II was succeeded by his Roman Catholic brother, James II, this part of Purcell's activities came to a virtual stop and did not fully revive with the accession of the Protestant William and Mary in 1689. He did, however, continue to compose odes for royal events, as well as the moving funeral music for Queen Mary, "Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts" (1695).

In 1689 Purcell wrote the miniature opera Dido and Aeneas for a girls' boarding school, perhaps modeled on Blow's Venus and Adonis, to words by Nahum Tate. This unique, all-sung masterpiece of moderate length and modest forces (voices, strings, and continuo) manages to convey a wide spectrum of human feeling. Dido's tragic pride, already hinted at in her first entries, reaches the height of expression in her famous Lament ("When I am laid in earth"). Both her formal songs are examples of one of Purcell's favorite procedures, the ground bass (a repeating bass on which variations are built). Aeneas's weak indecision is brilliantly conveyed in his one brief dialog with Dido, and Belinda is a well-delineated soubrette. There is still room for extrovert humor (in the sailors' song), tone-painting (in the royal hunt), and blood-curdling (in the witches' scene).

From 1690 onward Purcell was heavily involved in music for the London theaters, composing four full-scale "semi-operas" (also termed "dramatic operas"): The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian(1690); King Arthur (words by John Dryden; 1691); The Fairy Queen (1692); and The Indian Queen (1695). They are hardly operas in the modern sense, for the principal characters speak rather than sing, and they afforded little opportunity for Purcell to develop the powers of characterization he demonstrated in Dido and Aeneas. Yet his music for the incidental songs, choruses, dances, and extended scenes is wonderfully fresh and inventive. The promise for a future development of English theater music was denied by his early death, leaving no successors of comparable stature, and by the growing popularity of Italian opera.

Purcell was a master of the English song, already well represented by earlier composers such as John Dowland and Henry Lawes. Many of his best-known songs are taken from his theater music, which included more than forty plays as well as the semi-operas. He wrote three Odes for St. Cecilia's Day (for soloists, chorus, and orchestra), and his grand Te Deum and Jubilate of 1694 was also in honor of Cecilia, the patron saint of music. He was in great demand as a teacher, and composed much domestic music. His chamber music embraces fantasies for viols, among the last of a genre highly esteemed and cultivated in English domestic circles, but also Italianate sonatas for the newly fashionable violin with harpsichord accompaniment. For drinking clubs he contributed glees (unaccompanied part songs) and catches (rounds), some with bawdy words, others reflecting the turbulent politics of the time.

Like other English composers of his era, Purcell was much influenced by French and Italian styles as well as by older English traditions. He is noted for strong, distinctive harmonies and for his exquisite sensitivity to the rhythms and stresses of the English language. The grand public style of his choral odes and other ceremonial works, such as the 1692 Ode for St. Cecilia's Day ("Hail, bright Cecilia") and the Te Deum and Jubilate, were certainly models for George Frideric Handel. Purcell challenges William Byrd, Edward Elgar, and Benjamin Britten for the claim of being considered the greatest of English composers.

See also Handel, George Frideric ; Music ; Music Criticism .


Harris, Ellen T. Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Oxford, 1987.

Holman, Peter. Henry Purcell. Oxford, 1994.

Price, Curtis A., ed. Purcell Studies. Cambridge, U.K., 1995.

Nicholas Temperley

Henry Purcell

views updated May 14 2018

Henry Purcell

The English composer and organist Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was the only great figure of English opera until recent times. In all his works he achieved a happy merger of English traditional styles with the new baroque principles from Italy.

Henry Purcell was probably born in Westminster, then a city separate from London. Son of Henry Purcell, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, he learned early the fundamentals of his art. His parents lived in Great Almonry near the abbey, until his father died in 1664, at which time the family removed to nearby Tothill Street South. Young Henry was adopted by his uncle Thomas Purcell. Those proposing that Thomas was Henry's father uphold a theory that cannot be substantiated. The weight of the evidence still indicates that this Thomas was young Henry's uncle.

Very little is known of Purcell's schooling. The earliest official document bearing his name is the royal warrant for his dismissal from the Chapel Royal choir, dated Dec. 17, 1673, sometime after his voice had changed. In the Westminster School rolls a Henry Purcell, very likely the composer, is named as a scholar. Shortly after his dismissal from the choir, Henry was apprenticed to John Hingeston, Royal Keeper and Repairer of the Instruments. He also was paid small amounts as a copyist and for tuning the organ at the abbey. In 1677, upon the death of Matthew Locke, Purcell became a member of the Chapel Royal as composer-in-ordinary for the violins and in 1679 succeeded John Blow as organist at the abbey.

Shortly thereafter Purcell married Frances (?) Peters, who bore him six children, only two of whom survived infancy. By then Purcell had become one of England's most promising composers. In 1677 he set a beautiful and moving elegy to Matthew Locke ("Gentle Shepherds, ye that know") for which he may also have written the text. By the end of 1680 he finished not only almost all the elegant, deeply expressive fantasias and innomines but many of the trio sonatas and early songs as well. Stylistically all these were related to England's musical traditions but owed much to French and Italian models, as Purcell acknowledged in his trio sonatas published in 1683.

On July 31, 1682, Purcell's uncle Thomas died. The following year, perhaps merely as a formality, Purcell was required to take the sacrament of the Church of England in public, an event which may point to some suspicion that he had Papist sympathies. By then, though, he was firmly established as Charles II's chief composer. Among the best-known works from this period are the incidental music for Nathanial Lee's Theodosius, the Service in B-flat Major, the anthems "Rejoice in the Lord" and "They that go down to the sea in ships, " and the song "Bess of Bedlam."

Purcell's first compositions for James II, who ascended the throne in 1685, reflect a change in style, as may be seen in such works as the coronation anthem "My heart is inditing" and the ode "Why are all the muses mute?" Other differences in style, which in general reveal larger formal conceptions, are longer and more varied phrase constructions and evidence of greater attention to word illustrations and color contrasts. During the 3 years of James II's reign Purcell's reputation as a songwriter developed rapidly, and scarcely a collection or stage piece came out in London during this time without his participation.

Purcell was commissioned to supply music for the coronation ceremonies of William and Mary, which took place on April 11, 1689. Again a change in Purcell's music may be detected, for after the Glorious Revolution he turned to opera, to semiopera (a combined opera, stage play, ballet, and masque), and to more impressive sets of incidental music, showing a mastery of dramatic expression which no English composer ever surpassed.

Purcell began the new trend in 1689 with the opera Dido and Aeneas, which contains the moving lament "When I am laid in earth." He continued thereafter with at least one major dramatic composition each year. In 1690 he produced the heroic semiopera Dioclesian and in 1691 King Arthur, based on John Dryden's play; both operas relate topically to contemporary events. The Fairy Queen was produced in 1692, the incidental music for William Congreve's The Double Dealer in 1693, and the incidental music for The Married Beau in 1694. Purcell died while composing The Indian Queen in 1695, and his brother Daniel was asked to write the additional act.

During Purcell's last years he also wrote a great many other important works, including the Ode to St. Cecilia of 1692, six birthday odes for Queen Mary, the Te Deum and Jubilate in D Major, and a host of songs and dialogues. In addition, he found time to rewrite and revise portions of John Playford's Introduction to the Skill of Music (1694) and to carry out all his official duties as instrument repairer, organist, performer, and teacher.

Further Reading

The definitive single work on Purcell is Sir Jack A. Westrup, Purcell (1947), which provides a concise and perceptive account of the man and his music. A broader account of Purcell's life and times is in the projected three-volume work of Franklin B. Zimmerman, two volumes of which have been published: Purcell's Musical Heritage: A Study of Musical Styles in Seventeenth Century England (1966) and Henry Purcell, 1659-1695: His Life and Times (1967). For an analysis of Purcell's music see Zimmerman's Henry Purcell, 1659-1695: An Analytical Catalogue of His Works (1963). The best book on Purcell's stage music is Robert E. Moore, Henry Purcell and the Restoration Theatre (1961), which combines literary and musical insights in a fascinating study. For background, see Percy Young, History of British Music (1967).

Additional Sources

Campbell, Margaret, Henry Purcell: glory of his age, Oxford;

New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Duffy, Maureen, Henry Purcell, London: Fourth Estate, 1994. Dupre, Henri, Purcell, New York: AMS Press, 1978.

King, Robert, Henry Purcell, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

Westrup, J. A. (Jack Allan), Purcell, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Zimmerman, Franklin B., Henry Purcell, 1659-1695: his life and times, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983. □

Purcell, Henry

views updated May 23 2018


Preeminent Restoration (English) baroque composer; b. London?, 1659; d. there, Nov. 21, 1695. Purcell's father, Thomas, was associated with the private music of the royal household from the Restoration (1660) until his death in 1682. As a boy Henry sang, as did his father, in the chapel royal and attended its choir school; and in 1677 he joined his father in composing for the King's violins. He was appointed successively to the organ of Westminster Abbey (where his body rests) in 1679; to the chapel royal organ in 1682; and to the King's private music in 1689. In line with his official duties, Purcell composed for church, concert hall, and stage in an artificial, ceremonious milieu in which musiceven church musicwas expected only to entertain. Moreover, late Puritan "reform" had recently broken the last remaining links with the country's pre-Reformation liturgical traditions, so that Purcell's opportunities to create serious sacred music were limited to such forms as verse anthems, hymns, Psalm settings, sacred songs (actually solo cantatas, with texts by Cowley, Herbert, and other poets), and a few massive choral worksthe Te Deum, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, and the Jubilate for St. Cecilia's Day (1694). On the other hand, his theater music, consisting of one complete opera, Dido and Aeneas, and several semioperas, enjoyed the stimulus of the flourishing Restoration stage and the unbroken masque tradition; their scores are crammed with charming songs, instrumental intermezzi, and dance interludes. Although accommodated to the taste of the times in both sacred and secular spheres, Purcell's music soars above its circumstances in an unstereotyped expression that, as the poet G. M. Hopkins put it, "uttered in notes the very make and species of man as created both in him and in all men generally." Added to this perception of the universal in the individual were his "ear-thronging" gifts of melodic and contrapuntal invention and his sensitivity to the meaning and dramatic yield of his texts. Though traditionally English in modality and tonality (the composer was called Orpheus Britannicus in his time), his music is probably the earliest to be considered "modern" by 20th-century norms.

Bibliography: Works, 31 v. (London 18781928, 195761); 22 sonatas, ed. w. g. whittaker (London 193036). j. a. westrup, Purcell (New York 1937); Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegen-wart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 10:175874. f. b. zimmerman, Henry Purcell, 165995: An Analytical Catalogue of His Music (New York 1963). j. a. fuller-maitland et al., Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954) 6:9971019. e. walker, A History of Music in England, ed. j. a. westrup (3d ed. Oxford 1952). c. h. h. parry, Music of the 17th Century, v.3 of Oxford History of Music, ed. p. c. buck, 7 v. (2d ed. London 192932). g. e. p. arkwright, "Purcell's Church Music," Musical Antiquary 1 (190910) 6372, 234248. m. adams, Henry Purcell: The Origins and Development of His Musical Style (Cambridge, England 1995). m. burden, "Gallimaufry at Covent Garden: Purcell's The Fairy-Queen in 1946," Early Music 23 (1995) 268284. m. campbell, Henry Purcell: Glory of the Age (London 1993). r. r. craven, "Nahum Tate's Third Dido and Aeneas: The Sources of the Libretto to Purcell's Opera," The World of Opera 1 /2 (1979) 6578. m. cyr, "Tempo Gradations in Purcell's Sonatas," Performance Practice Review 7 (1994) 18298. c. price, "Dido and Aeneas: Questions of Style and Evidence," Early Music 22 (1994) 11525. r. shay, "Purcell's Revisions to the Funeral Sentences Revisited," Early Music 26 (1998) 45767. i. spink, "Purcell's Music for The Libertine, " Music and Letters 81 (2000) 520531.

[m. e. evans]

Purcell, Henry

views updated May 18 2018

Purcell, Henry (1658–95). The outstanding musician and composer of his time in Britain. Like other 17th-cent. musicians, Purcell's career began in the church, first as a chorister at the Chapel Royal, then as organist at Westminster abbey composing anthems. At court he enjoyed the favour of successive monarchs composing odes on special occasions, but his works for Mary II are the best known, composed when Purcell was reaching the height of his powers, just before his premature death. The music he composed for her funeral is of a truly majestic solemnity and profundity. He also composed for the theatre, particularly for works by John Dryden, and his own operas achieved considerable success. However what is now most often heard, and regarded as his masterpiece, Dido and Aeneas, was originally written for performance by schoolgirls in 1689 and only became appreciated over a decade later. Unlike most of his contemporaries Purcell was influenced by Italian as well as French styles, but what distinguishes his work is the personal element. Like Christopher Wren in architecture he took from a variety of sources what he wanted, but added a distinctive, personal contribution, the product of his genius.

J. R. Jones

Purcell, Henry

views updated Jun 27 2018

Purcell, Henry (1659–95) English composer and organist of the Baroque period. He is most famous for his church music, much of which is still frequently performed. His only opera, Dido and Aeneas (1689), was the first English opera and is regarded as an early masterpiece of the form. His many other stage works include The Fairy Queen (1692).