A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Purcell

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PURCELL. The name of a family of musicians in the 17th and 18th centuries, which included amongst its members the greatest and most original of English composers.

1. The name of 'Pursell,' presumably Henry Purcell the elder, is first found in Pepys's diary, under date Feb. 21, 1660, where he is styled 'Master of Musique.' Upon the re-establishment of the Chapel Royal (in 1660) Henry Purcell was appointed one of the Gentlemen. He was also Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey. On Dec. 21, 1663, he succeeded Signor Angelo as one of the King's Band of Music. He died Aug. 11, 1664, and was buried in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey, Aug. 13. There is a threepart song, 'Sweet tyranness, I now resign my heart,' in Playford's 'Musical Companion,' 1667, which is probably of his composition, although it is sometimes attributed to his more celebrated son. It was reprinted in Burney's History, iii. 486.

2. His eldest son, Edward, born 1653, was Gentleman Usher to Charles II, and afterwards entered the army and served with Sir George Rooke at the taking of Gibraltar, and the Prince of Hesse at the defence of it. Upon the death of Queen Anne he retired and resided in the house of the Earl of Abingdon, where he died June 20, 1717. He was buried in the chancel of the church of Wytham, near Oxford.

3. Henry Purcell, the second son of Henry Purcell the elder, is traditionally said to have been born in Old Pye Street, Westminster, in or about 1658. He lost his father before he was six years old,[1] and soon afterwards was admitted a chorister of the Chapel Royal under Capt. Henry Cooke, after whose death, in 1672, he continued under Pelham Humfrey. He is said to have composed anthems whilst yet a chorister, but there are now no means of verifying the fact, although it is highly probable. He may possibly have remained in the choir for a brief period after the appointment of Blow as successor to Humfrey as Master of the Children, but the probability is that, after quitting the choir on the breaking of his voice, he studied composition under Blow as a private pupil, and so justified the statement on Blow's monument that he was 'master to the famous Mr. H. Purcell.' In 1675, when only 17 years of age, Purcell was engaged by Josias Priest, a dancing-master connected with the theatres, who also kept a 'boarding school for young gentlewomen' in Leicester Fields, to compose an opera written by Nahum Tate, called 'Dido and Æneas,' for performance at his school. [App. p.766 "This sentence is to be corrected by a reference to Macbeth Music, vol. ii. p. 184; the question of the date of composition of 'Dido and Aeneas' is discussed in Mr. Cummings's 'Life of Purcell.'"] Purcell executed his task in a manner which would have added to the reputation of many an older musician. The opera is without spoken dialogue, the place of which is supplied by recitative; it contains some beautiful airs, and some spirited choruses, especially that beginning 'To the hills and the vales.' The work, although not performed on the public stage, acquired considerable popularity, as is evident from the number of manuscript copies in existence; but, with the exception of one song, printed in the 'Orpheus Britannicus,' and the rondo 'Fear no danger,' printed by Warren and others, it remained unpublished until 1840, when it was printed by the 'Musical Antiquarian Society.'[2] The production of 'Dido and Æneas' led to Purcell's introduction to the public theatre. In 1676 he was engaged to write music for Dryden's tragedy 'Aurenge-Zebe,' and for Shadwell's comedy 'Epsom Wells,' and part of the music for his tragedy 'The Libertine.' The latter contains the pleasing air 'Nymphs and Shepherds,' and the well-known chorus 'In these delightful pleasant groves.' In the same year a song by him appeared in the new edition of Book I. of Playford's publication, 'Choice Ayres, Songs and Dialogues.' In 1677 he furnished an overture, eight act and other tunes, and songs for Mrs. Behn's tragedy 'Abdelazor,' and composed an elegy on the death of Matthew Lock, printed in Book II. of the 'Choice Ayres,' etc., 1679. In 1678 he composed the overture and instrumental music and the masque in Shadwell's alteration of Shakspere's 'Timon of Athens,' representing the contest between Cupid and Bacchus for supremacy over mankind, and their ultimate agreement to exercise a joint influence; a very beautiful and characteristic composition. He does not appear to have produced anything for the theatre in 1679 [App. p766 "His only production for the stage in 1679 was Lee's 'Oedipus.' [See Dorset Garden Theatre in Appendix vol. iv. p. 617.]"], but several of his songs were published in that year in Playford's second Book just named; and an extant letter, dated Feb. 8, 1678–9, from his uncle Thomas, to the Rev. John Gostling, the celebrated bass singer, then at Canterbury, shows that he then produced something for the church; the writer telling Gostling that his son, Henry (as he affectionately called his nephew), was then composing and that the composition was likely to cause Gostling to be called to London. Gostling was appointed a gentleman extraordinary of the Chapel Royal Feb. 25, 1679, and a gentleman in ordinary soon afterwards. It would be very interesting to know which of Purcell's anthems was then produced, but at present there seems no clue. In 1680, however, he composed music for Lee's tragedy 'Theodosius,' the overture and act tunes for D'Urfey's comedy 'The Virtuous Wife,' and produced the first his numerous odes, viz. 'An Ode or Welcome for his Royal Highness [the Duke of York] his return from Scotland,' and 'A Song to welome home His Majesty from Windsor.' In the same year he obtained the appointment of organist of Westminster Abbey, and then gave up his connection with the theatre, which he not renew for six years. In this interval it may be assumed that much of his church music was composed. In 1681 he composed another Ode or Welcome Song for the King, 'Swifter, Isis, swifter flow.' On July 14, 1682, he was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal in the place of Edward Lowe, deceased, but was not sworn in until Sept. 16 following. He composed an Ode or Welcome Song to the King on his return from Newmarket, Oct. 21,—'The summer's absence unconcerned we bear,'—and some songs for the inauguration of the Lord Mayor, Sir William Pritchard, Oct. 29. In 1683 Purcell came forward in a new capacity, viz. as a composer of instrumental chamber music, by the publication of 'Sonnatas of III parts, two Viollins and Basse to the Organ or Harpsichord,' with an engraved portrait of himself, at the age of 24, prefixed. These sonatas are 12 in number, and each comprises an adagio, a canzone (fugue), a slow movement, and an air; they are avowedly formed upon Italian models, as the composer in his preface says, 'For its author he has faithfully endeavoured a just imitation of the most famed Italian masters, principally to bring the seriousness and gravity of that sort of musick into vogue and reputation among our countrymen, whose humour 'tis time now should begin to loath the levity and balladry of our neighbours. The attempt he confesses to be bold and daring; their being pens and artists of more eminent abilities, much better qualified for the imployment than his or himself, which he well hopes these his weak endeavours will in due time provoke and enflame to a more accurate undertaking. He is not ashamed to own his unskilfulness in the Italian language, but that is the unhappiness of his education, which cannot justly be counted his fault; however he thinks he may warrantably affirm that he is not mistaken in the power of the Italian notes, or elegancy of their compositions.' In the same year he composed an Ode or Welcome Song for the King, 'Fly, bold Rebellion,' and in July an Ode to Prince George of Denmark on his marriage with the Princess, afterwards Queen, Anne, 'From hardy climes.' He likewise composed an Ode by Christopher Fishburn, 'Welcome to all the pleasures,' which was performed Nov. 22 at the annual celebration on St. Cecilia's Day, the score of which he published in the following year. He also composed another Ode, 'Raise, raise the voice,' and a Latin Ode or motet, 'Laudate Ceciliam,' in honour of St. Cecilia, both of which still remain in MS. In 1684 he composed an Ode or Welcome Song, by Thomas Flatman, 'on the King's return to Whitehall after his Summer's progress'—'From these serene and rapturous joys'—the last production of the kind he was to address to Charles. In 1685 he greeted the new king, James, with an Ode or Welcome Song, 'Why are all the Muses mute?' For the coronation of James and his queen on April 23 he produced two anthems, 'I was glad,' and 'My heart is inditing,' both remarkably fine compositions. He was employed in superintending the erection of an organ in the Abbey expressly for the coronation, and was paid—out of what was then termed the 'secret service money,' but was really the fund for defraying extraordinary royal expenses,—£34 12s. 0d. 'for so much money by him disbursed and craved for providing and setting up an organ in the Abbey church of Westmr for the solemnity of the coronation, and for the removing the same, and other services performed in his said Ma'ties chappell since the 25th of March, 1685, according to a bill signed by the Bishop of London.' In 1686 he returned to dramatic composition, and produced the music for Dryden's revived tragedy 'Tyrannic Love,' in which is the fine duet of the spirits, Nakar and Damilcar (or, as Purcell has it, Doridcar), 'Hark! my Doridcar, hark!' and the pleasing air, 'Ah! how sweet it is to love.' He also produced an Ode or Welcome Song for the King, 'Ye tuneful Muses.' In 1687 he composed another Ode of the same kind, 'Sound the trumpet, beat the drum,' in which is the duet for altos, 'Let Cesar and Urania live,' which continued so long in favour that succeeding composers of odes for royal birthdays were accustomed to introduce it into their own productions until after the middle of the 18th century. Later in the year Purcell wrote his anthem 'Blessed are they that fear the Lord,' for the thanksgiving for the queen's pregnancy, in January 1687–8. In 1688 he composed the songs for D'Urfey's comedy, 'A Fool's Preferment.' With one exception they all belong to the character of Lionel, a young man mad for love, and they express in the most admirable manner the varied emotions which agitate his mind—disdain, despondency, tender affection and wild fantastic delusion. They were sung by William Mountford, the unfortunate actor who was murdered in the street by the ruffians Lord Mohun and Capt. Hill in revenge for his having frustrated their attempted forcible abduction of the celebrated actress Mrs. Bracegirdle, and who, we learn from Colley Cibber, 'sung a clear countertenor, and had a melodious warbling throat.' The music was published in 4to in the same year, and appended to the printed copy of the comedy. To this year also belongs a solo anthem for a bass voice with chorus, 'The Lord is king' (one of the very few of Purcell's church compositions of which the date of production is known), and a Welcome Song for the King, the last he wrote for James II. In 1689 he composed an Ode, 'Celestial Music,' which was 'performed at Mr. Maidwell's, a schoolmaster's, on the 5th of August,' and 'A Welcome Song at the Prince of Denmark's coming home.' He also composed for the annual gathering in London of the natives of the county of York the famous Ode in praise of that county and the deeds of its sons, particularly the part taken by them at the Revolution, which is commonly known as 'The Yorkshire Feast Song,' and which D'Urfey (the author of the words) justly calls 'one of the finest compositions he ever made.' It was performed at an expense of £100 at the County Feast held in Merchant Taylors' Hall, March 27, 1690. Many parts of it were printed in the 'Orpheus Britannicus'; it was printed entire by Goodison about 1788, and by the Purcell Society 90 years later, under the editorial care of Mr. W. H. Cummings. In this year Purcell became involved in a dispute with the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. He had received money from persons for admission into the organ-loft to view the coronation of William and Mary, considering the organ-loft as his, in right of his office; but the Dean and Chapter claimed the money as theirs, and called upon him to pay it over; and, upon his declining, went the length of making an order, dated April 18, 1689, that unless he paid over the money his place should be declared null and void, and his stipend detained by the Treasurer. It is presumed that the matter was in some way accommodated, as he retained his appointment until his death. In 1690 Purcell composed new music for Shadwell's version of 'The Tempest,' in which the advantageous result of his study of the great Italian masters is strikingly apparent. Smooth and easy flowing, yet nervous melodies, clearness and distinctness of form, and more varied accompaniment, are conspicuous. Two of the songs, 'Come unto these yellow sands,' and 'Full fathom five,' have retained uninterrupted possession of the stage from the time they were composed till this day, and much of the remainder of the music, especially that of the concluding masque, has only been laid aside because it is allied to verses not by Shakspere, and which the better judgment of our time has decreed shall no longer be permitted to supplant his poetry. In the same year Purcell produced the music for the 'alterations and additions after the manner of an opera' which Betterton had made to Beaumont and Fletcher's play, 'The Prophetess, or, The History of Dioclesian.' Here again the great advance made by the composer is visible. He calls into play larger orchestral resources than before; some of the movements are scored for two trumpets, two oboes, a tenor oboe, and a bassoon, beside the string quartet, and the wood wind instruments are occasionally made responsive to the trumpets and strings in a manner that was then new. The vocal music comprises some fine songs and bold choruses. Among the songs may be named 'What shall I do to show how much I love her?' (the air of which was long known from its adaptation to the words 'Virgins are like the fair flower in its lustre,' in 'The Beggar's Opera') and 'Sound, Fame, thy brazen trumpet,' with its bold and difficult obbligato trumpet accompaniment. Purcell published the score of this opera by subscription in 1691, with a dedication to the Duke of Somerset, in which he says, 'Musick and Poetry have ever been acknowledged sisters, which, walking hand in hand, support each other; As Poetry is the harmony of words so Musick is that of notes; and as Poetry is a rise above Prose and Oratory, so is Musick the exaltation of Poetry. Both of them may excel apart, but surely they are most excellent when they are joyn'd, because nothing is then wanting to either of their proportions; for thus they appear like wit and beauty in the same person. Poetry and Painting have arriv'd to perfection in our own country; Musick is yet but in its nonage, a forward child, which gives hope of what it may be hereafter in England when the masters of it shall find more encouragement. 'Tis now learning Italian, which is its best master, and studying a little of the French air, to give it somewhat more of gayety and fashion. Thus being further from the sun we are of later growth than our neighbour countries, and must be content to shake off our barbarity by degrees. The present age seems already disposed to be refin'd, and to distinguish between wild fancy and a just, numerous composition.' Here we see Purcell's modest estimate of the state of English musical art in his day, but we may see also that although he viewed his countrymen as standing only upon the threshold of the temple of music, he felt the strong conviction that it would be within their power to enter and explore its innermost recesses. The composer's desire to please his subscribers occasioned him to fix the subscription at so moderate a rate that it scarcely sufficed to meet the expense of the publication. He also wrote in 1690 the fine bass song, 'Thy genius, lo! from his sweet bed of rest,' for Lee's tragedy 'The Massacre in Paris,' and the overture, act-tunes and songs for Dryden's comedy 'Amphitryon.' Besides these he set D'Urfey 's Ode for the queen's birthday, April 29, 'Arise, my Muse,'—an admirable composition—and an Ode for King William, 'Sound the trumpet.'

The next year witnessed the production of Purcell's dramatic chef-d'oeuvre, 'King Arthur.' He had previously composed music for some of Dryden's plays, but had had merely to set such as the poet had handed him. It is however apparent from Dryden's dedication of 'King Arthur' that in constructing that drama he had followed a different course, and had consulted Purcell as to where, when, and how music could be effectively introduced, and had acted upon his suggestions. He had supplied the composer, at his desire, with variety of measure, and disposed the scenes so as to afford striking contrasts. Purcell's music is a succession of beauties;—the sacrificial scene of the Pagan Saxons; the martial song of the Britons, 'Come if you dare'; the scene with the spirits, Philidel and Grimbald; the songs and dances of the shepherds; the admirably bold and original frost scene; the lovely duet of the Syrens in the enchanted forest, 'Two daughters of this aged stream,' and the songs of the other spirits; and the varied and well contrasted pieces in the concluding masque (including the beautiful melody 'Fairest isle, all isles excelling'), form a combination which no contemporary musician was able to equal, and which for long afterwards remained unrivalled. All contemporary testimony tells of the great success of 'King Arthur,' yet, with the exception about a dozen songs which were included in the 'Orpheus Britannicus,' and those portions of the music which Arne retained in the version made in 1770, it remained unpublished until 1843, when it was printed by the Musical Antiquarian Society, four songs, however, having been lost in the interval. Purcell's other dramatic compositions in 1691 were the overture and act tunes for Elkanah Settle's tragedy 'Distressed Innocence,' and songs in the comedy 'The Gordian knot untyed,' and Southerne's comedy 'Sir Antony Love.' He also composed the Ode for the queen's birthday, 'Welcome, glorious morn.' In 1692 he composed the music for Howard and Dryden's 'Indian Queen,' in which are the recitative 'Ye twice ten hundred deities' (which Burney considered to be 'perhaps the best piece of recitative in our language'), with the air 'By the croaking of the toad,' and the beautiful little rondo 'I attempt from Love's sickness to fly.' The greater part of the songs in 'The Indian Queen' were printed in 1695 by May and Hudgebutt, who prefixed to their publication a curious letter the composer informing him that as they had met with the score of his work they had printed lest others should put out imperfect copies, and craving his pardon for their presumption. The entire work was printed by Goodison. He also composed songs for Dryden's 'Indian Emperor' (a sequel to 'The Indian Queen') and 'Cleomenes,' Southerne's comedy 'The Wives' Excuse,' and D'Urfey's comedy 'The Marriage Hater match'd,' and the music in the third act of Dryden and Lee's tragedy 'Œdipus.' But perhaps the most important dramatic composition he produced this year was the opera of 'The Fairy Queen,' an anonymous adaptation of Shakspere's 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' which was very well received by the public, although the great expense incurred for scenery, dresses, etc., rendered it but little productive to the managers. The composer published in the same year 'Some Select Songs as they are sung in The Fairy Queen,' 10 in number; 10 other pieces are in the 'Orpheus Britannicus,' and the instrumental music is in the 'Ayres for the Theatre'; the Sacred Harmonic Society possesses a MS. of nearly the whole of the fourth act, but the remainder of the choral portions and two or three more songs are irretrievably lost. The score was lost in or before 1700, in October of which year the patentees of the theatre offered a reward of £20 for the recovery of it or a copy of it. That they did not recover it may be inferred from the piece never having been revived. One of the songs which has been preserved, 'If love's a sweet passion,' long remained in favour: Gay wrote one of the songs in 'The Beggar's Opera' to the air. In the same year Purcell set Sir Charles Sedley's Ode for the queen's birthday, 'Love's Goddess sure was blind.' One of the airs in this Ode, 'May her blest example chase,' has for its bass the air of the old song 'Cold and raw'; the occasion of which was thus:—Queen Mary had one day sent for Arabella Hunt and Gostling to sing to her, with Purcell as accompanyist. After they had performed several fine compositions by Purcell and others, the queen asked Arabella Hunt to sing the ballad of 'Cold and raw.' Purcell, nettled at finding a common ballad preferred to his music, but seeing it pleased the queen, determined that she should hear it again when she least expected it, and adopted this ingenious method of effecting his object. He also set Brady's Ode 'Hail! great Cecilia,' which was performed at the annual celebration on St. Cecilia's day, Purcell himself singing the alto song ''Tis Nature's voice.' This Ode—one of the finest of its composer's works of that class—was printed by the Musical Antiquarian Society. In 1693 Purcell composed an overture and act-tunes for Congreve's comedy 'The Old Bachelor,' and songs for D'Urfey's comedy 'The Richmond Heiress,' Southerne's comedy 'The Maid's Last Prayer,' and Bancroft's tragedy 'Henry the Second.' He also set Tate's Ode for the queen's birthday, 'Celebrate this festival' (printed by Goodison), and his Ode in commemoration of the centenary of the foundation of Trinity College, Dublin, 'Great Parent, hail!' (also printed by Goodison), said to have been performed at Christ Church, Dublin, Jan. 9, 1693–4. Strange to say, Trinity College register does not contain any record of or allusion to the centenary celebration. In 1694 Purcell composed portions of the music for Parts I. and II. of D'Urfey's 'Don Quixote' (Part I. containing the duet 'Sing, all ye Muses,' and the fine bass song 'Let the dreadful engines'), an overture, act-tunes and songs for Congreve's comedy, 'The Double Dealer,' and songs for Crowne's comedy 'The Married Beau,' Southerne's tragedy 'The Fatal Marriage,' and Dryden's play 'Love triumphant.' He also composed the Ode for the queen's birthday, 'Come, come, ye Sons of Art'; and, for the Cecilian celebration, his celebrated 'Te Deum and Jubilate in D,' with orchestral accompaniments—the first of the kind produced in this country. Queen Mary dying on Dec. 28 in this year, Purcell, immediately afterwards, composed for her funeral the passage from the Burial Service, 'Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts,' in a manner so solemn, pathetic, and devout, that Croft, when setting the Burial Service, abstained from resetting the passage, and adopted Purcell's setting. Purcell also composed for the funeral an anthem, 'Blessed is the man.' Early in 1695 he composed two Elegies upon the queen's death, which were published with one by Dr. Blow. He composed an Ode for the birthday of the young Duke of Gloucester, son of the Princess Anne, July 24, 'Who can from joy refrain?' and also the music for Powell's adaptation of Beaumont and Fletcher's tragedy 'Bonduca,'[3] including the famous war-song 'Britons, strike home'; and songs for Scott's comedy 'The Mock Marriage,' Gould's tragedy 'The Rival Sisters,' Southerne's tragedy 'Oroonoko,' Ravenscroft's comedy 'The Canterbury Guests,' Beaumont and Fletcher's play 'The Knight of Malta,' and Part III. of D'Urfey's 'Don Quixote.' In the latter is contained 'the last Song that Mr. Purcell sett, it being in his sickness.' This was none other than the fine cantata 'From rosy bowers,' one of the greatest compositions he ever produced, and a most striking proof that, however the composer's frame might be enfeebled by disease, his mental powers remained vigorous and unimpaired to the last.

Purcell died at his house in Dean's Yard, Westminster, Nov. 21, 1695. On the day of his death he made his will, whereby he bequeathed the whole of his property to his 'loveing wife, Frances Purcell,' absolutely, and appointed her sole executrix. It was said that he contracted the disorder of which he died through his wife having purposely caused him to be kept waiting outside his own door because he did not return home until a late hour. But this seems inconsistent with the fact of his having made her his sole legatee, and with her expressions respecting him in the dedication of the 'Orpheus Britannicus.' Sir John Hawkins's conjecture that he died of a lingering, rather than an acute disease, probably consumption, is much more likely to be correct, and more in accordance with the recorded fact of Purcell's ability to continue to compose during his mortal sickness. He was buried Nov. 26 in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey, under the organ. A tablet to his memory, attached to a pillar, and placed there by his pupil, Lady Howard, wife of Sir Robert Howard, bears this inscription, attributed, but upon insufficient grounds, to Dryden 'Here lyes Henry Purcell, Esq.; who left this life, and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded. Obiit 21mo die Noveinbris, Anno Ætatis suae 37mo, Anno q: Domini, 1695.'[4] On a flat stone over his grave was inscribed the following epitaph:

Plaudite, felices superi, tanto hospite, nostris
Præfuerat, vestris addite ille choris:
Invida nec vobis Purcellum terra reposcat,
Questa decus sêcli, deliciasque breves.
Tam cito decessisse, modo cui singula debet
Musa, prophana suos religiosa suos.
Vivit Io et vivat, dum vicina organa spirant,
Dumque colet numeris turba canora Deûm.[5]

This having long become totally effaced was, a few years ago, renewed in a more durable manner by a subscription originated by Mr. James Turle, the present organist of the Abbey. Purcell had six children, three of whom predeceased him, viz. John Baptist, baptized Aug. 9, 1682, buried Oct. 17, following; Thomas, buried Aug. 3, 1686; and Henry, baptized June 9, 1687, buried Sept. 23, following. His other children are mentioned hereafter. His widow survived him until Feb. 1706. She died at Richmond, Surrey, and was buried on Feb. 14, in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey, near her husband.

The compositions of Purcell not before mentioned, and irrespective of his sacred music, were 'Ten Sonatas in four parts,' published by his widow in 1697, the ninth of which, called, for its excellence, the Golden Sonata, is given in score in Hawkins's History (Novello's edit. 755); Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinnet, published in 1696; numerous catches included in 'The Catch Club, or Merry Companions,' and other collections; and many single songs which are to be found in all the collections of songs of the period. In 1697 his widow published, under the title of 'A Collection of Ayres composed for the Theatre and upon other occasions,' the instrumental music in the plays of 'Abdelazor,' 'The Virtuous Wife,' 'The Indian Queen,' 'Dioclesian,' 'King Arthur,' 'Amphitryon,' 'The Gordian Knot unty'd,' 'Distressed Innocence,' 'The Fairy Queen,' 'The Old Bachelor,' 'The Married Beau,' 'The Double Dealer,' and 'Bonduca.' In 1698 she published, under the title of 'Orpheus Britannicus,' a collection of Purcell's songs for one, two, and three voices, chiefly selected from his odes and dramatic pieces, but including also several single songs, amongst them the famous 'Bess of Bedlam.' A second book was published in 1702. A second edition of the first book, with large additions and some omissions, appeared in 1706, and a second edition of the second book, with six additional songs, in 1711. A third edition of both books, now very rare, was issued in 1721. There is another composition, which is now pretty generally admitted to be the work of Purcell, viz. the music for the first act of Charles Davenant's tragedy 'Circe.' MS. scores are in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, the Sacred Harmonic Society's Library, and elsewhere. It was probably composed for some projected revival of the play, but, for reasons which cannot now be discovered, the completion of the work by the composition of music for the remainder of the piece was not effected. Purcell also made some valuable additions to the tract upon composition in the later editions of Playford's 'Introduction to the Skill of Musick.'

Purcell's sacred music consists of his church services and anthems, hymns, songs, duets, etc., and Latin psalms. His church music may be divided into two classes, viz. services and anthems, with orchestral accompaniments, and those with organ accompaniment only. The former, with two or three exceptions already mentioned, were composed for the Chapel Royal, the latter for Westminster Abbey. Many of the songs, duets, etc., and a few anthems were printed in the several editions of 'Harmonia Sacra,' 1688, 1693, 1714, etc., and several of the services and anthems in the collections of Boyce, Arnold, and Page. The noble collection edited by Vincent Novello (1829–1832), under the title of 'Purcell's Sacred Music,' includes the Te Deum and Jubilate for St. Cecilia's day, 3 services, 5 chants by different members of the Purcell family, a psalm-tune known as 'Burford,' 20 anthems with orchestral accompaniments, 32 anthems with organ accompaniment, 19 songs, some with choruses, 2 duets, a trio, 11 hymns for three and four voices, 2 Latin psalms, and 5 canons. MS. copies of 3 other anthems, a hymn, and 2 Latin motets, which Novello was unable to meet with, are now known to be in existence.

It will have been observed that Purcell essayed every species of composition. He wrote for the church, the theatre, and the chamber. His church music exhibits his great mastery of fugue, canon, imitation, and other scholastic devices, combined with fine harmony and expressive melody, and the introduction of novel and beautiful forms, enriching it whilst preserving its broad and solemn style. His secular music displays his imaginative faculty, his singular dramatic instinct and skill in marking character, his rare gift of invention, and great powers of expression. Although viewed by the light of our own day, his instrumental chamber compositions appear of an inferior order, they will yet, when compared with those of his predecessors and contemporaries, be found greatly in advance of his time. We see in him the improver of our cathedral music; the originator of English melody, as the term is now understood; the establisher of a form of English opera which was almost universally adopted for upwards of a century and a half; the introducer of a new and more effective employment of the orchestra in accompaniment; the man who excelled all others in his accurate, vigorous, and energetic setting of English words; and the most original and extraordinary musical genius that our country has produced. It is scarcely possible to estimate the loss to English art by the early death of Henry Purcell. Had his life been prolonged for him to have witnessed the introduction into England of the Italian opera and the early career in this country of Handel, what might not have been expected from him?

Several portraits of Purcell are extant; one, taken when a chapel boy, was formerly in Dulwich College; another, by Sir Godfrey Kneller (engraved for Novello's 'Purcell's Sacred Music'), was in the possession of the descendants of Joah Bates; a third was engraved as a frontispiece to the Sonatas, 1683. John Closterman painted two—one, now in the possession of the Royal Society of Musicians, and engraved in mezzotint by Zobel; the other engraved by White for the 'Orpheus Britannicus,' which we have here reproduced. Another, formerly in Dulwich College, and engraved by W. N. Gardiner, has now disappeared.

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4. Edward, youngest, but only surviving, son of the great Henry Purcell, was baptized in Westminster Abbey, Sept. 6, 1689. He was therefore (like his father) only six years old when his father died. When sixteen years old he lost his mother, who by her nuncupative will stated that, 'according to her husband's desire, she had given her deare son good education, and she alsoe did give him all the Bookes of Musick in generall, the Organ, the double spinett, the single spinett, a silver tankard, a silver watch, two pairs of gold buttons, a hair ring, a mourning ring of Dr. Busby's, a Larum clock, Mr. Edward Purcell's picture, handsome furniture for a room, and he was to be maintained until provided for.' Embracing the profession of music, he became organist of St. Clement, Eastcheap. On July 8, 1726, he was appointed organist of St. Margaret's, Westminster. He died about the end of July or beginning of August, 1740. He left a son, Henry, who was a chorister of the Chapel Royal, under Bernard Gates. On the death of his father he succeeded him as organist of St. Clement, Eastcheap. He afterwards became organist of St. Edmund the King, Lombard Street, and of St. John, Hackney. He died about 1750. Hawkins says Edward Purcell was a good organist, but his son a very indifferent one.

5. Frances, eldest daughter of Henry Purcell, the composer, was baptized in Westminster Abbey May 30, 1688. In 1706 her mother appointed her her residuary legatee and her executrix, when she should reach the age of 18. She proved the will July 6, 1706. She married, shortly after her mother's death, Leonard Welsted, Gent., poet and dramatist, and died 1724. Her only daughter, Frances, born 1708, died unmarried 1726. Her younger sister, Mary Peters, was baptized in Westminster Abbey, Dec. 10, 1693.[6] It is presumed that she survived her father, but predeceased her mother, as she is not named in the latter's will.

6. Daniel, the youngest son of Henry Purcell the elder, born probably about 1660, was also a musician, but from whom he received instruction is unknown. In 1688 he was appointed organist of Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1693 he composed the music for Thomas Yalden's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, which was probably performed at Oxford. In 1695 he resigned his appointment at Magdalen College, and came to London. In 1696 he composed songs for Mary Pix's tragedy 'Ibrahim XII.' and Cibber's comedy 'Love's Last Shift,' and the masque in the fifth act of 'The Indian Queen.' In 1697 he composed the music for Powell and Verbruggen's opera 'Brutus of Alba,' Settle's opera 'The New World in the Moon,' and the instrumental music for D'Urfey's opera 'Cynthia and Endymion.' In 1698 he composed the songs in Gildon's tragedy 'Phaeton, or, The Fatal Divorce,' an Ode for the Princess Anne's birthday, and Bishop's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day. In 1699 he joined with Jeremiah Clark and Richard Leveridge in furnishing the music for Motteux's opera 'The Island Princess,' and also set Addison's second Ode on St. Cecilia's Day for Oxford. In 1700 he set Oldmixon's opera 'The Grove,' and gained the third of the four prizes given for the composition of Congreve's masque 'The Judgment of Paris,' the others being awarded to John Weldon, John Eccles, and Godfrey Finger. In 1701 he wrote the instrumental music for Catherine Trotter's tragedy 'The Unhappy Penitent,' and in 1702 that for Farquhar's comedy 'The Inconstant.' In 1707 he composed an Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, which was performed at St. Mary Hall, Oxford. In 1713 he was appointed organist of St. Andrew, Holborn, but was displaced in Feb. 1717. He published 'The Psalmes set full for the Organ or Harpsicord, as they are plaid in Churches and Chappels in the maner given out, as also with their Interludes of great Variety'; a very singular illustration of the manner in which metrical psalms were then performed. Six anthems by him are in the choir books of Magdalen College, and songs in 'The Banquet of Musick,' 1689; ' Thesaurus Musicus' and 'Delicise Musicae,' 1696; and 'Thesaurus Musicus,' circa 1750. He composed 'A Lamentation for the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell,' written by Tate, the words of which are prefixed to the 'Orpheus Britannicus.' He was also author of some sonatas for flute and bass and violin and bass. He died in 1718. He was held in great repute in his day as a punster.

7. Katherine, daughter of Henry Purcell the elder, was baptized in Westminster Abbey, March 13, 1662. She married in June 1691 the Rev. William Sale, of Sheldwich, Kent, and was her mother's administratrix, Sept. 7, 1699.

8. Thomas, brother to Henry Purcell the elder, was appointed Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1660. In 1661 he was lay vicar of Westminster Abbey and copyist. On Aug. 8, 1662, he was appointed, jointly with Pelham Humfrey, Composer in Ordinary for the Violins to His Majesty, and on Nov. 29 following, 'Musician in Ordinary for the Lute and Voice in the room of Henry Lawes, deceased.' In 1672 he was, with Humfrey, made Master of the King's Band of Music. He died July 31, and was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, Aug. 2, 1682. He had probably been long before in ill-health, as on May 15, 1681, he granted a power of attorney to his son Matthew to receive his salary as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He was the composer of the well-known Burial Chant and other chants.[7]

[ W. H. H. ]


  1. His mother, Elisabeth, survived to witness the whole of her son's career, and died in August 1699.
  2. Priest removed his school in 1680 to Chelsea, where 'Dido and Æneas' was again performed, as appears from an undated printed copy of the words published in London. This copy contains a prologue for music which Purcell does not appear to have set. The piece was revived at the R.A.M. Concert-room, London, July 10. 1878, by Mr. Malcolm Lawson.
  3. This was printed by the Musical Antiquarian Society.
  4. Other eminent composers have died about the same age as Purcell, e.g. Pergolesi, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Weber.
  5. Which has been thus rendered in English:—

    "Applaud so great a guest, celestial pow'rs.
    Who now resides with you, but once was ours;
    Yet let invidious earth no more reclaim
    Her short-liv'd fav'rite and her chiefest fame;
    Complaining that so prematurely died
    Good-nature's pleasure and devotion's pride.
    Died? no, he lives while yonder organs sound,
    And sacred echoes to the choir rebound.'

  6. One 'B. Peters' was one of the witnesses to Purcell's will; probably he was godfather to this girl.
  7. I am indebted to Colonel Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers for much of the family history contained in the above article, and I gladly avail myself of this opportunity of acknowledging my obligations to that gentleman for the very kind and ready manner in which he has furnished me with much valuable information on many other occasions.