Henry Purcell

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Purcell, Henry

(pûr`səl), c.1659–1695, English composer and organist. Often considered England's finest native composer, Purcell combined a great gift for lyrical melody with harmonic invention and mastery of counterpoint. He sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal until 1673 and became organist there in 1682. In 1677 he was appointed composer for the king's band, and from 1679 until his death he was organist at Westminster Abbey. His sole opera, Dido and Aeneas (1689), is an early masterpiece of the form. It is remarkable for its dramatic characterization, poignant melodies, and adherence of the music to the genuine rhythms of English speech. His other notable stage works include the masque The Fairy Queen (1692), based on Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, and music for Dryden's King Arthur (1691). Purcell also excelled at writing songs for public occasions, including several odes for St. Cecilia's Day and his famous birthday ode for James II, Sound the Trumpet. In his vocal music Purcell often employed the device of the ground bass, in which a bass melody is repeated while the upper parts pursue variations. He also composed outstanding instrumental works and music that is secular in tone for the English church service. Purcell invigorated English music with Italian and French elements, creating at the same time a distinctively English baroque style. His importance in English musical life was overshadowed only by that of Handel, in whose choral works there are strong reflections of Purcell's influence.


See biographies by J. A. Westrup (1947) and F. B. Zimmerman (1967).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Purcell, Henry


Born circa 1659 in London; died there Nov. 21, 1695. English composer and organist.

As a court musician in London, Purcell sang in the Chapel Royal and served as keeper of the instruments, organ tuner, composer for the King’s Twenty-four Violins, church organist, and royal harpsichordist. England’s greatest composer, he was outstanding for his unusual productivity, showing equal mastery in all musical genres and excelling in compositions for the theater. (He wrote the music for approximately 50 theater productions.) His greatest achievement was the opera Dido and Aeneas (1689), based on Vergil’s Aeneid. The first English opera, it was remarkable for its refined lyricism, psychological profundity, dramatic tension, and balanced structure, as well as for the unity of music and libretto. In Dido and Aeneas, Purcell captured the traditions of the English realistic theater, the masque, national poetry, English and Scottish folk songs and dances, and contemporary instrumental music.

Purcell’s other works for the musical stage are called semi-operas. They consist of separate numbers or intermezzi, many of which are developed divertissements in theatrical plays. Purcell composed numerous multipart songs and around 100 solo songs that are similar to folk songs. In his secular songs he carried on the traditions of the English madrigal. Outstanding among his religious and secular choral compositions are the anthems (ceremonial church works based on biblical themes and classified as a type of motet). In his instrumental works Purcell followed the traditions of the Italian violin composers. His fantasias for strings and his triosonatas, as well as his works for organ, are distinguished for their masterful polyphony. His harpsichord pieces, which contain many folk and contemporary melodies (dances, suites, arias, and ground basses), are closely related to pieces by the virginalist and are intended primarily for amateurs.

Although Purcell endeavored to create a national music, his creative work did not establish firm traditions. In Great Britain there is a growing interest in him, owing largely to the work of B. Britten, who published adaptations of a number of the 17th-century composer’s works, including Dido and Aeneas (1951).


Konen, V. “Persell i angliiskaia muzyka.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1955, no. 10.
Konen, V. “Britanskii Orfei.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1959, no. 11.
Rozenshil’d, K. Istoriia zarubezhnoi muzyki, fasc. 1, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1973. Pages 323–38.
Zimmerman, F. B. H. Purcell. London-New York, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The publication of The Ashgate Research Companion to Henry Purcell is a major event for Purcellian scholarship for reflecting all of the above, as well as for the fact that it has been two decades since the appearance of anything comparable to it.
(2.) See Curtis Price, "The Fairy Queen," Henry Purcell and the London Stage (New York, Cambridge UP, 1984), 331.
It is associated with composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, George Frideric Handel, Arcangelo Corelliy, Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Henry Purcell. The baroque period saw the development of functional tonality.
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'The Moor's Pavane' is drawn from Othello and is performed to the music of Henry Purcell. In all three productions, the music is expertly performed by the State Academic Orchestra of the USSR.
Todas ellas tuvieron un precedente singular en la que quizas se puede considerar la primera de estas relecturas musicales de la historia de la conquista y la colonizacion de America en el ambito europeo: The Indian Queen, compuesta por Henry Purcell en 1694 a partir de la obra del mismo titulo que el dramaturgo ingles John Dryden escribiera en colaboracion con Robert Howard treinta anos antes, en 1664.
The Karlsruhe Chamber Choir made a trip to join the Ahliyyah School for Girls (ASG) choir, under the direction of Mrs Samia Ghannoum, in a performance of Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas".
In his 1989 staging of Henry Purcell's 1689 opera, Morris created not only an enduring masterpiece, but also dual roles that provided a showcase for his own gifts as a dancer.
He plays Navy pilot Henry Purcell who, along with Lt Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Lt Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), has been chosen to fly a new generation of stealth fighter-bombers.
Otherwise, the volume contains merely reprints from Dorstian works such as "Entwurf zum Merlin-Drama" (1978), Merlin oder Das waste Land (1981), Der nackte Mann (1986), Parzival: Ein Szenarium (1990), and "Den Realismus erweitern" (1999), the latter explicitly ending and culminating in the significant confession, "Ich mochte eigentlich den Realismus nicht aufgeben, sondern nur erweitern." Whether "Purcells Traum von Konig Artus," an interesting libretto sketch for an opera with Henry Purcell's music, has already been printed before is, unfortunately, not clear.
Students of Henry Purcell's music are thus fortunate to have for their study autograph or authoritative copies of his original and revised settings of the funeral sentences from the Anglican burial service.
The 17th-century composer Henry Purcell's opera, based on the legend, inspired Mark Morris to create one of his most acclaimed dance pieces.