Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell was one of the most famous composers of his time. He was born in 1659 and lived a very short life. But in that short period of time he rose to a level of greatness that very few can achieve.

Purcell was son to a court musician and he held different important music positions in life which include being a Royal Chapel chorister and other royal appointments throughout his life. In about 25 years, Purcell had himself working for three Kings, one after another in Westminster.

In the Royal Chapel, Purcell found himself a great teacher by the name of Dr. John Blow and it is said that just a small number of lessons from Dr. Blow made all other music lessons from other instructors become invalid. Purcell also succeeded Dr. Blow as Westminster Abbey’s organist and it is said that Blow stepped down himself, giving recognition to the musical genius of Purcell. He also wrote a noble Ode for Purcell when he died.

Serving royalty wasn’t Henry Purcell’s only work. He also put his musical talents to public use by writing different operas (read ‘musical dramas’) and also incidental stage music. In addition to that he also wrote a lot of chamber music formed as trio sonatas and harpsichord suites. The growing trend of public concerts in London also attracted his involvement. So with geniuses like Purcell present in the concert scene, it can be said that the establishment of a trend for public concerts was certainly one of the most important components of the restoration of the city of London.

When Purcell got involved in the concert scene, there was a lot of talent present on the stage. A lot of skilled violinists and flute and cello players were already performing. There were also those who played the harpsichord and organ. Purcell was asked to write an Ode for a newly formed musical society in honor of St. Cecilia. The society was formed by gentlemen amateur players. It was a great achievement for the 24 year old Purcell who wrote two more Odes for this society later.

Writing incidental stage music didn’t feel like an embarrassing act to Purcell, considering his position as a royal musician. During his time royal musicians who also created lighter pieces for opera and the theatre were not only accepted for this practice but they also actually got encouraged for it. Purcell wrote most his pieces for the theatre during the last five years of his life (1690-1695). In this short span of time however, he produced for over forty plays. Most part of Purcell’s instrumental music was compiled and published by his wife two years after his death in 1697. That collection is considered an important jewel studded by a great master in the crown of music.

The diversity of his work was so wide that there is hardly any form of music to this day where Purcell’s influence isn’t present. A lot of church music is filled with anthems created by Purcell; the orchestral movements in Purcell’s work for the theatre are enough to give him a proper place in this particular style of music; the sonatas and fantasies he wrote give him a firm standing in chamber music’s history. Dido and Aeneas is a symbol of brilliance that was Purcell in the opera and if all else was put aside, just his songs are more than enough to make him an immortal in music. Once set to work, Henry Purcell never failed to create a masterpiece.


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