device can have an invigorating effect in lively pieces, while in laments, such as Dido’s farewell, it can intensify the expression of grief.” “There is hardly a department of music, as known in his day, to which Purcell did not contribute with true distinction….His one true opera. Dido and Aeneas, is an enduring masterpiece, and his other dramatic works (sometimes called operas) are full of musical riches. And, most especially, Purcell's songs themselves would be sufficient to insure his immortality.  His sensitivity to his texts has been matched by few masters in musical history; when he had worthy poetry to set, he could hardly fail to produce a masterpiece.” More.

Best of English Tradition!

Purcell’s music was a major influence on Benjamin Britten, whose The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra is based on a theme  from Purcell’s Abelazar. Listen here.
At last, an English composer fronts our course! A contemporary of Charpentier, Purcell worked in Westminster for three different kings over twenty-five years in Restoration London, becoming organist of Westminster Abbey.

His Life

At this time there was no public opera in London, and public concerts were just beginning. Dido and Aeneas was written (1689) for a girl’s school, and later works, including The Fairy-Queen (1692) were music to accompany theatre, musical dramas, and incidental stage music. Like all the Baroque composers, he wrote over 100 songs (listen here), and music for many settings - the church, the stage, the court, and private entertainment.   Perhaps best known for his music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is the lovely Fairy-Queen. Listen
to Alfred Deller singing the plaint. But he wrote only one opera, the miniature Dido and Aeneas “In all these branches of composition he showed an obvious admiration for the past combined with a willingness to learn from the present, particularly from his contemporaries in Italy. With alertness of mind went an individual inventiveness that marked him as the most original English composer of his time as well as one of the most original in Europe.” (Britannica)

His Music

Purcell’s baroque music is witty, melodic and often highly difficult. Listen for his use of the ground bass: “This
Henry Purcell, 1659-1695

Purcell’s World

1661 Charles II crowned 1665 Great Plague 1666 Great Fire of London 1667 Milton’s Paradise Lost 1685 James II crowned 1687 Newton’s Principia 1689 William III and Mary co- monarchs 1690 Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding
March 3rd, Dido and Aeneas March 3rd, Dido and Aeneas