Born 1658 or 1659 died 1695. Purcell was a London boy. He came of a musical family. His father was that Henry Purcell, Master of Musique’ mentioned in Pepys’s Diary as one of a party of friends who, with music, celebrated at a tavern the decision of the Long Parliament to recall Charles II.
Both father and uncle became ‘ Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal’, and the father was also appointed Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey. On the father’s death, Henry was adopted by the uncle, and, at six or seven years old, was admitted as a choir-boy of the Chapel Royal. Here he received the best kind of musical training, a practical one, learning not merely to sing but to play the Organ and Harpsichord and to compose. The equipment of the Chapel included a band 0f twenty-four Fiddlers, a band set up by Charles in imitation of the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi of Louis XIV, which he had heard whilst in exile. Charles was musical and encouraged performers and composers.
On Purcell’s voice breaking, he remained for a time upon the roll of the Chapel, as it was not the custom to turn a promising boy adrift. He also held for several years the post of music-copyist at Westminster Abbey, a post his father had also once held.
At twenty Purcell was appointed organist of Westminster Abbey, and a few years later he became, in addition, organist of the Chapel Royal. His genius was thus recognized by appointment to two of the most considerable musical positions in the country. At this time he composed a great deal of Church Music, some of it serious and devotional and other of it rather lighter in stylethe latter possibly written to meet the tastes of the King.
On the death of Charles II, Purcell was retained in the service of James II, and on his exile in that of William and Mary. He died youngat the age of thirty-seven.
Purcell had a very considerable connexion amongst theatre managers, and wrote a large amount of incidental music to the plays of the Restoration dramatists. Many of the songs he thus wrote are still popular, being very tuneful in a straightforward and thoroughly English way. He also wrote a number of Odesmany of them of a complimentary nature to royalty on occasions when it went for its holidays or returned from them. (The opening of one of these Odes, ,l `Welcome, dread Sir, to Town’, indicates roughly the level of their verse.) His Church Music has been alluded to ; some of it provides abundant opportunity for orchestral activity, in interludes and accompaniments. His Choral writing in the bigger scale pieces is imposing. The Harpsichord Music is all fresh and delightful, but primitive; in it Purcell appears as a sort of boy-Bach (note that he was born a quarter of a century before Bach and Handel). There are a number of `Sonatas’ for two Violins, ‘Cello, and Harpsichord that show the greatest ingenuity and musicianship, yet are to-day little played. And there is one admirable Violin Sonata, re-discovered but a few years ago, and now gramophonically available.
Recitative comes a good deal into Purcell’s Church and Theatre Music. It had been introduced into English Church Music by Purcell’s master at the Chapel Royal, Pelham Humphrey. This was Pepys’s `little Pelham Humphrey, lately returned from France, and is an absolute Monsieur as full of form and confidence and vanity, and disparages everything and everybody’s musick but his own’. Humphrey had been sent to France by the King, and had there studied under the Italian Lully; this is one of the direct connexions between the Italian musical renascence, the French developments from it, and England, but, in addition, Purcell was all his life a close student of Italian models, and profited by their study. Nevertheless, though in some senses cosmopolitan, his music has the English directness, and his somewhat plain but massive choral style influenced Handel, who came to England but fifteen years after Purcell’s death and found his music in full fashion.
FURTHER READING. Article by Fuller-Maitland in Grove’s Dictionary; chapter in Anderton’s Early English Music; Cummings’ Purcell (Sampson Low, 3s. 6d. ; entirely biographical) ; Runciman’s Purcell (Bell, 1s. 6d.; biographical and critical).
PRINTED MUSIC, &c. OPERAS, and other Theatre Music. The Fairy Queen (Novello, 4s.) ; Dido and Aeneas (Metzler, 2s. 6d.) ; Bonduca (Chappell, 2s.) ; King Arthur (Cary, out of print). The Masque from Dioclesian (Novello, 3S.). For ODES AND CHURCH MUSIC, and separate SECULAR CHORUSES, SONGS, &c., see Novello’s catalogue. PIANO WORKS (i.e. really HARPSICHORD), ed. Barclay Squire (Chester, 4 vols., each 3s.). STRING WORKS. Sonata for Violin and Keyboard (Schott, 3s., or Curwen, 2s. 6d.) ; Golden Sonata, for 2 Violins, Key-board, and (optional) ‘Cello (Augener, 2s. 6d.). SONGS. For various albums, also separate Songs and Duets, see the catalogues of Novello, Augener, and Bayley & Ferguson.
The complete works of Purcell are in course of publication by the Purcell Society (Novello, 255. per volume).
PLAYER-PIANO ROLLS. The Aeolian Co. provide for 65-note instrument two rolls, the first of which gives four short Harpsichord Pieces ; the second, the Golden Sonata (written for 2 Violins, ‘Cello, and Harpsichord, and here, therefore, `arranged’). The Golden Sonata is also obtainable for 88-note instrument.
GRAMOPHONE RECORDS. KEYBOARD MUSIC. Gavotte (played on the Harpsichord by Mrs. Gordon Woodhouse ; H. M. V. On the same record are a Prelude of Bach, L’Arlequin of Couperin, and Tambourin of Rameau, i. e. four pieces, all of the Purcell-Bach-Handel period, which this record therefore well illustrates). Three pieces of Purcell, taken from various Harpsichord Suites, are to be had, played on the piano by Irene Scharrer (H. M. V.). The VIOLIN AND KEYBOARD Sonata is recorded by Marjorie Hayward and Mme Adami (H. M. V. ; for printed copy of this, see above). SOLO VOCAL WORKS. I attempt from love’s sickness to fly (Hubert Eisdell ; C.) ; Arise, ye subterranean Winds (Norman Allin ; C.) ; the same (Robert Radford ; H. M. V.) ; Fairest Isle (Arthur Jordan ; C.) ; When I am laid in earth (Edna Thornton ; H. M. V.).