Purcell, Henry

1658-1695

England's greatest composer. Tradition makes St. Ann's, Old Pye Street, Westminster, his birthplace. Yet it is not certain where he was born, nor when, but it must have been some time between Nov. 21, 1658, and Nov. 20, 1659. The lad became one of the children of the Chapel Royal immediately after his father's death, and began his musical studies under Captain Henry Cooke, formerly a musician to Charles I., and afterwards master of the children of the Chapel Royal under Charles II. For eight years Purcell worked under Cooke's guidance, and a number of his anthems, still in use, were written at this time. In 1667 a three-part song, Sweet Tyranness, I Now Resign, was printed by Playford in the Musical Companion. This has been attributed to his father, but is usually considered the work of Henry, junior. There is no doubt, however, that he wrote The Address of the Children of the Chapel Royal to the King, and their master, Captain Cooke, on his majesty's birthday, A. D. 1670. He is also thought to be the composer of the Macbeth music usually attributed to Matthew Locke, though Locke's music, some of which is still extant, is very different. A copy of the score in Purcell's hand is in W. C. Cumming's library. In 1672 Cooke died, and his pupil, Pelham Humphreys, became master. Humphreys had shown such remarkable talent that Charles II. sent him to France to learn the method of Lully, and on his return he introduced the French style to his pupils; yet, during the two years in which Purcell was his pupil, the lad, though profiting by the study of the French master, kept his own individuality. When Dr. Blow succeeded to the post of master, Purcell stayed on, probably as a supernumerary, for his voice must have changed by this time. This kind, amiable and sound musictian, whose tombstone announces him " Master to the famous Henry Purcell," exerted an excellent influence over his gifted pupil. In 1680 he resigned the post of organist at Westminster Abbey in Purcell's favor, but succeeded to it again after his death. The fact that he was so closely connected with the Cathedral did not prevent Purcell from composing for the stage, and he was in great demand to write incidental music for plays. Just when he began writing for the theatres is a disputed matter.

In 1677 Purcell wrote an elegy on the death of Matthew Locke, and in 1678 an arrangement of Sweet Tyranness, for one voice, and five other songs appeared. It was about this time that he composed anthems, especially for the Rev. John Gosling, a favorite of the King, whose voice was a very low bass. One of these, They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships, written after the escape of the King and his party, Gosling among them, from drowning in a terrible storm off North Foreland, goes down to double D. In 1680 he wrote the music for Theodosius, or the Force of Love, and his first odes, a welcome song for his Royal Highness' return from Scotland, and a song to welcome His Majesty home from Windsor. These were followed the next year by another, Swifter, Isis, Swifter Flow, and from that time until his death many a special occasion was celebrated by an ode from him, particularly after his appointment, in 1683, as composer in ordinary to the King. Among Purcell's odes are four for St. Cecilia's Day. He had been made organist of the Chapel Royal in 1682,  and it was that year that his first son, John Baptista, was born and died. In 1683 he published his sonatas in three parts, composed, he says in his dedication, in imitation of the Italian composers. In 1684 occurred the competition over the new organ for Temple Church. It was probably at Purcell's suggestion that this instrument was built with two extra quarter tones in each octave, which gave an opportunity for more varied modulation. The next year Purcell superintended the building of the new organ at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of James II., for which occasion he wrote the anthems, I Was Glad, and My Heart is Inditing. His march and quickstep, which is said to have helped to bring on the revolution of 1688, was printed in The Delightful Companion in 1686. This song, according to Lord Wharton, " Sung a deluded Prince out of three kingdoms." The music appeared as A New Irish Tune in Musick's Handmaid, in 1689. It is still sung in the north of Ireland as a party song. Of his music for plays in 1690, The Prophetess, or the History of Dioclesian, was printed, and in the dedication to the Duke of Somerset is an interesting expression of his opinions. " Music and poetry," he wrote, " have ever been acknowledged sisters, which, walking hand in hand, support each other; as poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exultation of poetry. Both of them excel apart, but sure they are most excellent when they are joined, because nothing is then wanting to either of their perfections." Dioclesian is the first of his incidental music to be elaborately scored. Selections from the Fairy Queen were published in 1692, but the score was lost. In 1700 a reward of twenty guineas was offered for it, but it was not recovered until 1891, when it was found in the library of the Royal Academy of Music. One of the airs, If Love's a Sweet Passion, was used in the Beggar's Opera. The same year, 1692, he wrote his fine ode, Hail, Great Cecilia, but the most famous of his music for St. Cecilia's Day is the magnificent Te Deum and Jubilate in D, composed in 1694.