Henry Purcell (1659- 1695), English composer and organist, is considered one of the great composers of his age, one of the notable Baroque opera composers and the last English-born composer of international note before Edward Elgar two centuries later.
He came from a musical family, was a chorister in the Chapel Royal, then was apprenticed as an instrument repairer and tuner. In 1676 he was appointed organist at Westminster Abbey. A year later he became “Composer in Ordinary” at the Chapel Royal with control of the orchestra there. In 1682 he became its organist, and in 1683, keeper of the instruments. As an employee of the royal Court and later as “Master of the King’s (or Queen’s) Musick” he was to compose the musical settings; both religious and secular; for all the great occasions – the weddings and deaths and birthdays – until his death.
He wrote all in all the popular forms of the day, for organ and harpsichord, consorts and individual instruments – he is an important figure in the development of the “Suite”. He wrote much music for the stage, including a number of operas still performed, songs, and incidental music for over 40 plays. Many of the later are now not performed because of the over-the-top extravagance of the words and the ridiculous staging; but many of his songs show rare sensitivity, and great tunefulness. He could also be exceptionally bawdy, as was expected of a figure of the Restoration.
- Operas still heard include “The Tempest”, “The Fairy Queen” “The Indian Queen” and his operatic masterpiece, “Dido and Aeneas”. [] “Dido’s Lament” is one of the most popular arias in all opera.
- Sacred music includes about 65 anthems, including coronation anthems for James II, one of the most well known arrangements of “In Dulce Jubilo”, and settings of the Te Deum, Jubilate Deo and the like.
- Occasional music performed today includes “Ode to St. Cecilia”, “Birthday Ode for Queen Mary” and the funeral music on the death of that queen.[]
- His music for the play "Abdelazar" includes a rondeau for trumpet [] that was used by Benjamin Britten as the tune for his set of variations, the “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. []
- Many children's choirs are familiar with "Nymphs and shepherds come away" []
Works NOT by Purcell
The ubiquitous wedding processional, “Trumpet Voluntary” is in fact “The Prince of Denmark’s March” by Jeremiah Clarke. []