Purcell, Henry

At the close of 1694 Queen Mary died, and for her funeral, the following March, Purcell wrote two anthems, Blessed is the Man that Feareth the Lord, and Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of Our Hearts. The latter has been used at every choral funeral service since at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral. Purcell's health, never robust, now began to grow very delicate, but that id not prevent him from composing music for The Mock Marriage; The Rival Sisters; Oroonsko; Bonduca; and the third part of Don Quixote, the first two parts of which had been written in 1694. The stirring song, To Arms, and Britons, Strike Home, are from Bonduca, and the remarkable bass solo, Let the Dreadful Engines, is from Don Quixote. His last piece, the cantata, From Rosie Bowers, for the same play, was written during his illness. He died November 21, on the eve of St. Cecilia's Day. Purcell was buried November 26, under the organ in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Purcell must have been of amiable disposition and fond of jollity, for he is thought to have often enjoyed the company of the musical wits who gathered at Cobweb Hall, a tavern kept by Owen Swan, and at Purcell's Head, where a half-length portrait of the composer in a green nightgown and a full-bottomed wig was the sign, and there his catches and glees were sung. The story got abroad that his death resulted from a cold caught while staying outside the door all night because he came home later than the hour set by his wife and was refused admittance, but there is probably little truth in this tale. He is thought to have died of consumption. Purcell and Dryden seem to have been intimate, for it is said that the latter often took refuge in Purcell's apartment in the clock tower of the Temple to escape debtors' prison. Purcell was held in the highest esteem by his contemporaries. The admiration for htim did not confine itself to England, for it is said that Corelli was about to visit England to see him, whom he considered the only thing worth seeing in England, when he died. The sentiments of Purcell's English admirers were voiced in numerous poems, praising him as a man and artist.

Purcell's works include twenty-nine odes or welcome songs for special occasions; music to fifty-one plays; about one hundred anthems, hymns, and church-services; some two hundred songs, duets, trios, and catches; fantasias for strings, similar to those of Orlando Gibbons; two sets of violin sonatas; organ and harpsichord music. There was a Purcell Club from 1836 to 1863, but not until the Purcell Society was founded in 1876 was a complete edition of his works started. Fourteen volumes have now been published, The Yorkshire Feast Song; Masque in Timon of Athens; Dido and  Eneas; Duke of Gloucestershire's Ode; twelve sonatas of three parts; harpsichord and organ music; ten sonatas of four parts; ode on St. Cecilia's Day, Hail Great Cecilia; Dioclesian; three odes for St. Cecilia's Day, written in 1683; birthday odes for Queen Mary; The Fairy Queen; sacred music; and welcome songs. A complete list of his works is given at the end of volume thirteen. The research which was necessary in publishing this set has brought about a considerable change of opinion about the dates of Purcell's dramatic compositions.

Music was not in a very propitious state at the advent of Purcell, and it is remarkable that his works should have been so great. The Puritans had destroyed many of the organs and most of the church-music; there had never been opera in England, it being only in its beginning in Italy and France; and there were no great predecessors to follow, for the great masters were yet unborn or in their infancy; yet here was a musical genius whose sacred works exercised a great influence over Handel, and whose dramatic music foreshadowed the principles of Gluck and Wagner. In his works he not only showed himself a master of contrapuntal devices, but did not fear to introduce bold and unheard-of harmonies, frequently using false relations effectively, nor to extend the existing melodic forms, and employ in a most ingenious way the meager orchestra at his command, not only in his stage but in his churchmusic. He often repeated his phrases, and sometimes overdid in illustrating the words, as by making the bass descend to double D on the word "down" in they that go down to the sea in ships. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was his perfect accentuation, an art in itself. His beauties in composition were entirely his own, while his occasional barbarisms may be considered as unavoidable compliances with the age in which he lived. The following words of Charles Burney are often quoted by the zealous admirer of the great English composer: "While a Frenchman is loud in the praise of a Lully and a Rameau; the German in that of a Handel and a Bach; and the Italian of a Palestrina and a Pergolesi; not less is the pride of an Englishman in pointing to a name equally dear to his country, for Purcell is as much the boast of England in music as Shakespeare in the drama, Milton in epic poetry, Locke in metaphysics, or Sir Isaac Newton in mathematics and philosophy." The attitude is still the same, only, nowadays, Englishmen are more active in showing their admiration. In November, 1895, the bicentennial of Purcell's death was celebrated. The pupils of the Royal College of Music, under the direction of C. V. Stanford, gave Dido and  neas at the Lyceum Theatre on the 20th. On the 21st a service was held in Westminster Abbey, at which his Te Deum and several of his anthems were sung as nearly like the original as possible, and at the British Museum an exhibit of manuscripts, portraits and letters, under the direction of William Barkley Squire, was shown.