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Henry Purcell 1659-1695


purcell - online jigsaw puzzle - 63 pieces


Henry Purcell was an English organist and composer of both sacred and secular music in the Baroque period, and although incorporating Italian and French influences into his music his legacy is uniquely English.

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Purcell was born in St Ann's Lane, Old Pye Street, Westminster. Henry Purcell Senior was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and sang at the coronation of King Charles II of England.

After his father's death in 1664, Purcell was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, who showed him great affection and kindness. Thomas was himself a gentleman of His Majesty's chapel, and arranged for Henry to be admitted as a chorister. Henry was a chorister in the Chapel Royal until his voice broke in 1673, at which time he became assistant to John Hingeston, the musical instrument keeper for the King.

Purcell is said to have been composing at nine years old, but the earliest work that can be certainly identified as his is an ode for the King's birthday, written in 1670.  Purcell continued his studies under Dr. John Blow. He attended Westminster School, and in 1676 he was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey. Henry Purcell became the assistant to Hingston, keeper of the royal instruments in 1677. Henry Purcell's earliest anthem "Lord, who can tell" was composed in 1678. It is a psalm that is prescribed for Christmas Day and also to regularly be read at Morning Prayer on the fourth day of each month.

In 1679, he wrote some songs for John Playford's Choice Ayres, Songs and Dialogues, and also an anthem, the name of which is not known, for the Chapel Royal. From a letter written by Thomas Purcell, and still extant, we learn that this anthem was composed for the exceptionally fine voice of the Rev. John Gostling, then at Canterbury, but afterwards a gentleman of His Majesty's chapel. Purcell wrote several anthems at different times for this extraordinary voice, a basso profondo, which is known to have had a range of at least two full octaves, from D below the bass staff to the D above it. The dates of very few of these sacred compositions are known; perhaps the most notable example is the anthem "They that go down to the sea in ships". In thankfulness for a providential escape of the King from shipwreck, Gostling, who had been of the royal party, put together some verses from the Psalms in the form of an anthem and requested Purcell to set them to music. The work is a very difficult one, opening with a passage which traverses the full extent of Gostling's range, beginning on the upper D and descending two octaves to the lower.

In 1679, Blow, who had been appointed organist of Westminster Abbey in 1669, resigned his office in favour of his pupil. Purcell now devoted himself almost entirely to the composition of sacred music, and for six years severed his connection with the theatre. Between 1680 and 1688 Purcell wrote music for seven plays. The composition of his chamber opera Dido and Aeneas, which forms a very important landmark in the history of English dramatic music, has been attributed to this period, and its earliest production may well have predated the documented one of 1689. It is occasionally considered the first genuine English opera, though that title is usually given to Blow's Venus and Adonis: as in Blow's work, the action does not progress in spoken dialogue but in Italian-style recitative. Both works run to less than one hour. At the time Dido and Aeneasnever found its way to the theatre, though it appears to have been very popular in private circles.

Soon after Purcell's marriage, in 1682, on the death of Edward Lowe, he was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal, an office which he was able to hold simultaneously with his position at Westminster Abbey. His eldest son was born in this same year, but his life was short lived.Henry Purcell fathered six children by his wife Frances, four of whom died in infancy.

 His first printed composition, Twelve Sonatas, was published in 1683. For some years after this, he was busy in the production of sacred music, odes addressed to the king and royal family, and other similar works. In 1685, he wrote two of his finest anthems, "I was glad" and "My heart is inditing", for the coronation of King James II. One of Purcell's most elaborate, most important and most magnificent works was a birthday ode for Queen Mary. It is titled Come ye Sons of Art, and was written by Nahum Tate and set by Purcell.


Purcell died in 1695 at his home in Dean's Yard, Westminster, at the height of his career. He was believed to be 35 or 36 years old at the time. The cause of his death is unclear: one theory is that he caught a chill after returning home late from the theatre one night to find that his wife had locked him out.

Purcell is buried adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey. The music that he had earlier composed for Queen Mary's funeral was performed during his as well. Purcell was universally mourned as 'a very great master of music.'  Following his death, the officials at Westminster paid him by unanimously voting that he be buried with no expense in the north aisle of the Abbey.




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