Henry Purcell
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1659-09-10
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Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell Biography (BBC)

Born in London in 1659, Henry Purcell was the son of a musician in the retinue of Charles II, and it was royal service that was largely to be his world as well. By the time he was 10 he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, and in 1673, when his voice broke, he became for a while an unpaid assistant to the keeper of the king’s instruments.

His first formal royal appointment came in 1677, when he was created composer-in-ordinary for the violins (in succession to Matthew Locke), and in 1682 he was appointed as one of the organists at the Chapel Royal. In between, he had also become organist of Westminster Abbey (in succession to his teacher and friend, John Blow).

The last years of Charles’s reign were when Purcell composed the bulk of his outstanding output of English church music, culminating in the superb anthems he supplied for the coronation of Charles’s successor, James II, in 1685. His court connections were also responsible for the numerous odes he composed for royal occasions such as birthdays and homecomings, an unpromising genre that he managed to raise to unwonted heights.

The 1680s also saw him beginning to write for the theatre, contributing songs and instrumental pieces to plays by such distinguished Restoration dramatists as Dryden, Congreve and D’Urfey. But it was in 1690 that his theatrical career really took off with the success of Dioclesian, his first venture into the peculiarly English genre of the time, known today as ‘semi-opera’, in which music is mixed with speech. This was followed over the next few years by three works – King Arthur (with words by Dryden); The Fairy Queen (loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream); and The Indian Queen (words again by Dryden) – all written in a similar style.

It is not clear for what purpose Purcell wrote his only through-composed opera, Dido and Aeneas; its first known performance was by pupils at a girls’ boarding school in Chelsea in 1689, but it may have been first produced as a court entertainment some years earlier.

Purcell occupies a central position in British music. More than 300 years after his death he is still arguably the country’s greatest composer, and his music continues to provide successors with both inspiration and a point of cultural identification. Apparent in his church music, stage works and solo songs alike are an exquisite talent for English word-setting, a gift for attractive melody and a capacity for searing expressiveness that have attracted commendation from his own time to ours; he was acclaimed in his own day as ‘the English Orpheus’ and Holst, Vaughan Williams, Britten and Tippett were among his greatest 20th-century admirers. His untimely death at the age of 36 left Britain without a native composer of genius until the arrival of Elgar two centuries later.

Profile © Lindsay Kemp

Henry Purcell Biography (Wikipedia)

Henry Purcell ( or; c. 10 September 1659 – 21 November 1695) was an English composer. Although incorporating Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, Purcell's legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers; no other native-born English composer approached his fame until Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.

This entry is from Wikipedia, the user-contributed encyclopedia. It may not have been reviewed by professional editors and is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License. If you find the biography content factually incorrect or highly offensive you can edit this article at Wikipedia. Find out more about our use of this data.

Henry Purcell Performances & Interviews


Henry Purcell Tracks

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Henry Purcell
They that go down to the sea in ships (excerpt)
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They that go down to the sea in ships (excerpt)
Henry Purcell
Sonata No.6 for 2 violins and continuo in G minor (Z.807)
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Sonata No.6 for 2 violins and continuo in G minor (Z.807)
Henry Purcell
Fantazia à 3 No 3 in G minor
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Fantazia à 3 No 3 in G minor
Henry Purcell
Dido and Aeneas
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Dido and Aeneas
Henry Purcell
March and Jig, from 'The Old Batchelor' Z. 607
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March and Jig, from 'The Old Batchelor' Z. 607
Henry Purcell
Remember not, Lord, our offences Z50
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Remember not, Lord, our offences Z50
Henry Purcell
O God, thou art my God
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O God, thou art my God
Henry Purcell
Dido and Aeneas; When I am laid in earth and final chorus
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Dido and Aeneas; When I am laid in earth and final chorus
Henry Purcell
Twas Within a Furlong of Edinburgh Town
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Twas Within a Furlong of Edinburgh Town
Henry Purcell
Fantazia No 8 in D minor for four instruments
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Fantazia No 8 in D minor for four instruments
Henry Purcell
The Fairy Queen: Fill up the Bowl
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The Fairy Queen: Fill up the Bowl
Henry Purcell
Ode for the birthday of Queen Mary (1694) "Come, ye sons of Art, away" (Z.323)
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Ode for the birthday of Queen Mary (1694) "Come, ye sons of Art, away" (Z.323)
Henry Purcell
Remember not, Lord, our offences
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Remember not, Lord, our offences
Henry Purcell
Come ye sons of art away (Come ye sons of art)
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Come ye sons of art away (Come ye sons of art)
Henry Purcell
Fantazia upon One Note
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Fantazia upon One Note
Henry Purcell
Four Works
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Four Works
Henry Purcell
Now Winter comes slowly (The Fairy Queen)
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Now Winter comes slowly (The Fairy Queen)
Henry Purcell
Chacony à 4 in G minor
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Chacony à 4 in G minor
Henry Purcell
Concert suite arr. L Stokowski
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Concert suite arr. L Stokowski
Henry Purcell
Canzona Z.860ii (for the Funeral of Queen Mary)
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Canzona Z.860ii (for the Funeral of Queen Mary)
Henry Purcell
Thou know'st Lord Z.58C (for the Funeral of Queen Mary)
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Thou know'st Lord Z.58C (for the Funeral of Queen Mary)
Henry Purcell
Sound the Trumpet (from Come Ye Sons of Art)
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Sound the Trumpet (from Come Ye Sons of Art)
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