Purcell, Henry


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.

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.