Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695)

Portrait of Henry Purcell Henry Purcell was a composer of the Baroque Period who was to become a leading influential figure in the development of English classical music. He was born into music since his father and uncle were employed by the Chapel Royal, and his brother was also a composer and organist. Henry Purcell was also to study at the Chapel Royal, under Matthew Locke and John Blow, where he was destined to become organist after a short period playing organ in Westminster Abbey. Not much is known about his life, but a significant number of his works survive. As a composer Purcell wrote a number of works for the church and the monarchy (Charles II, James II and Queen Mary). He composed a large number of songs or "anthems" (a highly developed song form which as well as the solo voice could have sections for full chorus and orchestral interludes) and he had a natural ability to set poetry in the English language to music. His royal duties included writing music for birthdays and other events, and his ideas in this respect were to be a significant influence on that later royal composer George Frideric Handel.

Portrait of Henry Purcell by John Closterman Purcell's dramatic settings were influenced by both the Italian and French traditions of the time and also included elements of domestic folk music. Of these only "Dido and Aeneas" is a full opera, and other works are semi-operatic or largely consist of incidental music. Purcell died at the age of only 36 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. The previous year Purcell had composed music for the funeral of Queen Mary II, and that music was played again for his own funeral service. Despite dying at such a young age Henry Purcell's music has had an influence spanning centuries of English classical music, and his music has also found its way into popular culture through being adapted by other composers or used in films. Purcell's Rondeau was the theme used by Benjamin Britten in his concert work "A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra". Purcell's music (specifically his "Fantasia Upon One Note") also inspired Pete Townsend for the opening of The Who's "Pinball Wizard", and the composer's music has been used or arranged on a number of well-known films:

Major Works by Purcell:

Henry Purcell Recommendations

Here are some selected CDs covering a wide range of Purcell's music:

All material in mfiles is copyright © 1999-2019 Music Files Ltd. All rights reserved.