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Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell

Dido and Æneas  Royal Opera House  03-04-2009
Henry Purcell
Royal Opera House

Henry Purcell's life

Henry Purcell was born in 1659 in Westminster and he was the son of a musician at the Chapel Royal. Purcell's legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers. After his father's death in 1664, he was placed under the guardianship of his uncle who was as well a gentleman of His Majesty's Chapel, and he made sure that Henry was admitted as a chorister. Henry Purcell studied first under Captain Henry Cooke, Master of the Children, and after under Pelham Humfrey, Cooke's successor. Henry was a chorister in the Chapel Royal until his voice broke. His earliest work is supposedly an ode for the King's birthday, written in 1670. After Humfrey's death, Purcell continued his studies under Dr. John Blow in the Chapel Royal. He attended Westminster School and in 1676 was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey. Purcell also devoted much of his talent to writing operas, or rather musical dramas, and incidental stage music; but he would also write chamber music in the form of harpsichord suites and trio sonatas, and became involved with the growing London public concert scene. Most of Purcell's theatre music was written between 1690 and 1695 and within that relatively brief period he supplied music for more than forty plays.

Purcell's Operas

His one true opera,  Dido and Ænea  (1688), is an enduring masterpiece, and his other dramatic works (sometimes called operas) are full of musical riches. He died in 1695.


Purcell's Dido and Ænea

It wasn't easy to verify the date of the very first debut of Dido and Ænea by Purcell, but it is likely to be October 1689, in London's suburb Chelsea, at the boarding school directed by Josias Priest, a dancing master for young girls of noble families. The opera was then revised and presented as a masque, but it disappeared from the scenes to come back in the Nineteenth Century, when its real value was recognized thanks to Cummings and Edward Dent's revision, based on the original sources. Today, what you can call the only “real opera” composed by Purcell (because it is entirely sung, King Arthur, The Fairy Queen, The Indian Queen e The Tempest still have parts in prose) is considered the masterpiece of musical theatre of the Seventeenth Century in Britain, for its sweet and human music, certainly Baroque but also filled with a nostalgic vibe, typical of more recent times, which reminds of some kind of Romantic poetry of the Nineteenth Century.
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