The British Library Homepage
homeHome  >   Online Gallery  >   Online exhibitions  >   Features  > More features  > Henry Purcell 1659-1695
 
print

Henry Purcell 1659-1695, the glory of the temple and the stage

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell, one of England's greatest composers, died in November 1695, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Listen to the sound samples on this page with the Windows Media Player

All recordings copyright © The British Library Board. The recordings on this site are for private listening only; copying, broadcasting or reproduction is prohibited.


Listen  March, Purcell  
The excerpt from Purcell's march from the music for the funeral of Queen Mary, 1695, is played by The King's Consort, conducted by Robert King.
The recording is made available by courtesy of Hyperion Records Ltd.

The music played at his funeral was none other than that which he had written for the funeral of Queen Mary II only 10 months earlier.

The three hundredth anniversary of the death of Purcell was commemorated at the British Library by this exhibition. Most of the major surviving autograph manuscripts in the UK were brought together and shown along with related printed material and pictorial and documentary sources. Included among the autographs were the newly discovered volume of keyboard music, on display for the first time since its acquisition for the nation.

Purcell's Setting of a Latin Psalm | Portrait of Purcell in his 24th Year | The Coronation of James II | A Purcell Anthem | A Newly Discovered Purcell Manuscript

Purcell's Setting of a Latin Psalm

Purcell's setting of a latin psalm

Purcell's setting of a latin psalm, Add. MS. 30930 fol. 12v
Copyright © The British Library Board

Enlarged image


Listen  `Beati omnes qui timent Dominum', Purcell  
This work, together with another Latin Psalm, `Jehova, quam multi' is thought to have been written around 1680 for the Queen's chapel at Somerset House. The organist at the chapel at this time was Giovanni Battista Draghi. Both works share a similarity in style with Purcell's English anthems.

Shown here is a detail of the florid `Halleluja' with which the piece closes. The excerpt from `Beati omnes qui timent Dominum' attached here is sung and played by soloists, the Choir of the King's Consort, the Choir of New College Oxford (Edward Higginbottom, director), and the King's Consort, conducted by Robert King. The recording is made available by courtesy of Hyperion Records Ltd.

The autograph manuscript of `Beati omnes...' is found in a large folio volume which at one end contains sacred music - mainly three and four part hymns - and at the back of the book is instrumental music, including 13 fantasias and eight trio sonatas.

Portrait of Purcell in his 24th Year

Portrait of Henry Purcell This portrait of Purcell was published as the frontispiece to his Sonatas of III parts published in 1683. The works are for 2 violins and bass with organ or harpsichord.
Copyright © The British Library Board

Enlarged image

Purcell's earliest consort or chamber music was in the form of the Fantasia, a form which enjoyed great popularity from the late 16th century and throughout the 17th century. Fantasias, or `Fancies', as they were known in England, were written for the consort of viols. In the early seventeenth century the violin gradually became established in court but its establishment in amateur circles took somewhat longer.
Towards the latter half of the century instrumental music in several parts was supplanted by a simpler form of work influenced by Italian composers, in which the middle parts of the musical texture, were replaced by music for keyboard. Purcell's Sonatas of III parts show the composer responding to this new Italian style.

The Coronation of James II

Procession for coronation of James II

Enlarged image

 

Part of the formal procession for the coronation of James II from Francis Sandford, History of the Coronation of James II and of Queen Mary (T. Newcomb: [London], 1687). 604.i.19.
Copyright © The British Library Board

At the time of the coronation of James II in 1685, Purcell was Keeper of the King's Instruments and Organist of the Chapel Royal. Purcell's connection with the Chapel Royal dated back to 1669 when, at the age of 10, he was admitted as a chorister. In 1682, in addition to his position as organist at Westminster Abbey (a position he had held since 1679), Purcell was appointed to succeed Edward Lowe as Organist of the Chapel Royal.

The Choir of the Chapel Royal took part in the coronation ceremonies performing, amongst other works, Purcell's grand anthem `My heart is inditing'.

A Purcell Anthem

A Purcell Anthem Autograph Manuscript of Purcell's anthem , composed in 1685 for the coronation of James II. R.M.20.h.8, ff 53v - 54r
Copyright © The British Library Board

Enlarged image


Listen  My heart is inditing, Purcell  
The excerpt is sung and played by the Choir of New College Oxford
(Edward Higginbottom, director), and the King's Consort, conducted
by Robert King.
The recording is made available bycourtesy of Hyperion Records Ltd.

The ceremony surrounding the coronation of James II in 1685 presented Purcell with the opportunity to produce a work on a lavish scale. For `My heart is inditing' he had the use of two choirs with an accompaniment of strings. The 8-part choral writing gave Purcell scope for a variety of vocal textures including using the voices antiphonally, resulting in this truly magisterial work.

A Newly Discovered Purcell Manuscript

Courant A `Courant' (no. 3 from the Suite in A minor, Z.663) from the newly discovered manuscript of Purcell's keyboard music.
Copyright © The British Library Board

Enlarged image


Listen  Courant, Purcell  
The excerpt from the Courant (second half) is played by Davitt Moroney on the single-manual virginals made by John Player in London in 1664, now in the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands Park in Surrey.
The recording is made available by Virgin Classics Ltd

The manuscript first came to light in November 1993 and provides the only example to survive of keyboard music written in Purcell's own hand. The Purcell section contains 21 pieces written on 22 pages; five of the pieces were entirely unknown; four others, arrangements for keyboard of his theatre music, were also not known before in this form; the remainder are known movements from his keyboard suites but even here the text often varies considerably from that given in their first publication (A choice collection of lessons for the harpsichord or spinnet published by his widow in 1696).

The rest of the manuscript contains music by Draghi, a colleague of Purcell who seems to have used the manuscript after Purcell died. Some of Draghi's music, too, is hitherto unknown and all is almost certainly autograph. It seems likely that the manuscript was used for teaching purposes.

 
 
 
 
Accessibility Terms of use Site map
Copyright The British Library Board