Our privacy policy was last updated on Friday 31 January 2020View it hereDismiss
Click here to discover the music festival scene in Estonia
Sign in
Bachtrack logo
Home
What's on
Reviews
Articles
Video
Site
EventsReviewsArticlesVideo

Composer: Purcell, Henry (1659-1695)

Find classical music concert, opera, ballet and dance listings | Purcell
Purcell, Henry
Biography
Purcell, Henry

The nonpareil of English music

Henry Purcell enjoyed a meteoric career and a reputation that outshone that of all his contemporaries. He was brought up in the tradition of English contrapuntal choral music, becoming organist of Westminster Abbey at just twenty-two years old, but his main career was as a court composer at a time when French and Italian baroque styles were flooding into London. Uniquely, Purcell married the three traditions. He combined an impeccable ear for baroque harmony and instrumentation with a natural ability for counterpoint and a rare talent for setting words to music.

Together with his one-time teacher John Blow and the Italian immigrant Giovanni Battista Draghi, he created English baroque opera, with his Dido and Aeneas remaining the most popular of the genre. The shifting religious and court politics of his day resulted in his writing in a wide variety of styles, including everything from court odes to viol suites and keyboard music. His vocal music ranged from large scale hymns and anthems to intimate and popular songs which people would sing in the street. He could write sacred music of elegance and beauty, but was also a master of "catches", humurous part-songs with bawdy or seditious words.

To read more about Purcell's life and music, click on this biography of Purcell by the BBC's Terry Barfoot.

Key works
If you're unfamilar with Purcell's music, you have some treats in store. Listen to Dido's Lament from Dido and Aeneas, an extraordinary musical picture of the depths of despair, the Anthems and Services with their huge variety of vocal colour, or the wonderfully intricate instrumental fantasies (the Fantasy upon one note is particularly fine). To get you started, click here for a selection