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Breaking New Ground

How Purcell's innovative theatrical production of Dido and Aeneas laid the artistic foundation for subsequent projects with the most famous writer of the day, John Dryden.

Henry Purcell's stageworks: Purcell's innovative theatrical production "Dido and Aeneas" lays the artistic foundation for subsequent projects with the most famous writer of the day, John Dryden.
Across the week Donald Macleod charts Purcell's activities during the reign of William and Mary. 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.

As William and Mary's reign gathered pace, Purcell became more involved in writing music for stage productions. He had critical success with the groundbreaking opera "Dido and Aeneas", leading to a fruitful association with the United Company, a theatrical monopoly of London's theatres.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Henry Purcell

    Of old when heroes thought it base Z.333 (The Yorkshire feast song)

    Ensemble: The King’s Consort. Singer: Rogers Covey‐Crump. Singer: Michael George. Singer: James Bowman. Director: Robert King. Singer: Charles Daniels. Singer: Robert Evans.
    • HYPERION : CDA-66587.
    • HYPERION.
    • 1.
  • Henry Purcell

    Oedipus - incidental music to Act 3 Z.583

    Ensemble: Accademia Bizantina. Singer: Andreas Scholl.
    • Decca 478 2262.
    • Decca.
    • 13.
  • Henry Purcell

    O sing unto the Lord Z.44

    Singer: David Thomas. Choir: Christ Church Cathedral Oxford Choir. Orchestra: The English Concert. Conductor: Simon Preston.
    • ARCHIV : dgarchiv-4594872.
    • ARCHIV.
    • 5.
  • Henry Purcell

    Dido and Aeneas - opera in 3 acts Z.626

    Ensemble: Le Concert d’Astrée. Singer: Susan Graham. Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm.
    • VIRGIN : 5 45-605 2.
    • VIRGIN.
    • 20.
  • Henry Purcell

    The Prophetess, or The history of Dioclesian Z.627

    Director: Roy Goodman. Ensemble: The Parley of Instruments.
    • Hyperion: CDA67001/3.
    • Hyperion.
    • 1.

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