Donald Macleod considers how the start of the reign of William and Mary heralded a change in musical direction for Purcell.
Henry Purcell's stageworks: William and Mary's accession heralds a change in direction for one of England's most brilliant and respected composers. This week Donald Macleod charts Purcell's activities during their reign. Cutbacks at court meant fewer commissions, but even though Purcell was asked to write less church music, he was able to cater admirably to the Royal taste for music for special occasions and write prolifically for the theatre.
Walk along the North Quire Aisle of Westminster Abbey and you'll come to the tablet commemorating Henry Purcell. One of the pre-eminent musicians of the age, he died, unexpectedly and tragically early in 1695 at the age of 37. Yet despite the brevity of his life, Purcell left behind a rich musical legacy. Indeed, with little in the way of biographical detail remaining, it's through his music that glimpses of his character emerge. He was a gifted and prolific composer who wrote with skill and imagination for the opera, the church, theatre, royal patrons and even small domestic forces. Born a few hundred yards away from the Abbey, just south of Tothill Street, as a child he survived the Great Plague and the Fire of London. A chorister of the Chapel Royal, he went on to hold positions at court and at Westminster Abbey over three reigns, Charles II, James II and William and Mary, seemingly able to weather the political storms and prosper under each successive monarchy.
Today Donald looks at Purcell's activities at the start of William and Mary's reign. Asked to provide music for their coronation, Purcell relied on a crafty bit of recycling, serving up an Introit he'd written four years earlier for Mary's father, the now deposed James II. Shortly afterwards he did produce something new, the first of a succession of annual birthday Odes for the new Queen. Meanwhile, he was looking beyond the court to rekindle his interest in the theatre.
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