Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

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01A Brief Life20190916

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, a whistlestop trip through the scanty facts of the composer’s biography.

Frustratingly little is known about the tragically abbreviated life of the composer who is arguably Britain’s greatest, Henry Purcell. Had he been born twenty years earlier, he would have been old enough to figure in Pepys’ Diary, and he might perhaps have been the object of one of the great naval administrator’s typically incisive character sketches. But by the time Purcell was taking his first steps in composition in the 1670s, Pepys had already laid down his quill. Purcell kept no diary of his own – at least none has survived – and if he was active as a letter-writer, precious little of his correspondence has come down to us. Our evidence for the facts of the composer’s life appears in a sequence of glimpses – a portrait here, an anecdote there, unvarnished entries in the official records of the time. We don’t know for certain when or where he was born, or who his father was. We know he married a woman called Frances, who may have been the daughter of a Flemish leather merchant, but we can’t be sure. We know that he had six children, four of whom died in infancy. We know that as a child he survived the Plague and the Great Fire of London, but we have no idea what took his life at the age of barely 36, or what other great masterpieces might have flowed from his pen had he survived to enjoy a more normal span of years.

‘Sound the trumpet’ (Come ye sons of art, Z323)
Andreas Scholl, Christophe Dumaux, countertenors
Accademia Bizantina

Chacony in G minor, Z730
Orchestra of The Sixteen
Harry Christophers, director

‘I was glad’, Z19
Choir of Westminster Abbey
Harry Bicket, organ
Simon Preston, conductor

‘Now does the glorious day appear’, Z332
Julia Gooding, soprano
James Bowman, alto
Howard Crook, tenor
David Wilson-Johnson, Michael George, bass
Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Gustav Leonhardt, conductor

The Indian Queen, Z630 (Act 3, extract)
Stephen Varcoe, baritone (Ismeron)
Martyn Hill, tenor (The God of Dreams)
English Baroque Soloists
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

‘Thou knowest, Lord’, Z58c
Winchester Cathedral Choir
London Baroque Brass
David Hill, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, the scanty facts of the composer\u2019s biography.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

01A Brief Life20190916

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, a whistlestop trip through the scanty facts of the composer’s biography.

Frustratingly little is known about the tragically abbreviated life of the composer who is arguably Britain’s greatest, Henry Purcell. Had he been born twenty years earlier, he would have been old enough to figure in Pepys’ Diary, and he might perhaps have been the object of one of the great naval administrator’s typically incisive character sketches. But by the time Purcell was taking his first steps in composition in the 1670s, Pepys had already laid down his quill. Purcell kept no diary of his own – at least none has survived – and if he was active as a letter-writer, precious little of his correspondence has come down to us. Our evidence for the facts of the composer’s life appears in a sequence of glimpses – a portrait here, an anecdote there, unvarnished entries in the official records of the time. We don’t know for certain when or where he was born, or who his father was. We know he married a woman called Frances, who may have been the daughter of a Flemish leather merchant, but we can’t be sure. We know that he had six children, four of whom died in infancy. We know that as a child he survived the Plague and the Great Fire of London, but we have no idea what took his life at the age of barely 36, or what other great masterpieces might have flowed from his pen had he survived to enjoy a more normal span of years.

‘Sound the trumpet’ (Come ye sons of art, Z323)
Andreas Scholl, Christophe Dumaux, countertenors
Accademia Bizantina

Chacony in G minor, Z730
Orchestra of The Sixteen
Harry Christophers, director

‘I was glad’, Z19
Choir of Westminster Abbey
Harry Bicket, organ
Simon Preston, conductor

‘Now does the glorious day appear’, Z332
Julia Gooding, soprano
James Bowman, alto
Howard Crook, tenor
David Wilson-Johnson, Michael George, bass
Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Gustav Leonhardt, conductor

The Indian Queen, Z630 (Act 3, extract)
Stephen Varcoe, baritone (Ismeron)
Martyn Hill, tenor (The God of Dreams)
English Baroque Soloists
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

‘Thou knowest, Lord’, Z58c
Winchester Cathedral Choir
London Baroque Brass
David Hill, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, the scanty facts of the composer's biography.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

02Watershed Year20190917

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today the focus is on a single year, 1680, in which Purcell emerged as one of the greatest contrapuntists of his time.

1680 was a year of firsts for Purcell – he wrote his first music for stage, fulfilled his first commission for a royal ‘welcome’ ode, took his first (and only) wife, and made his first foray into the world of chamber music, with a sequence of nine fantazias of such dazzling contrapuntal ingenuity and brilliance – not to mention expressive maturity – that you have to marvel at how a composer of just 20 could have possibly pulled off such a dazzling feat.

Theodosius, Z606 (‘Hail to the myrtle shade’)
Judith Nelson, soprano
James Bowman, countertenor
The Academy of Ancient Music
Christopher Hogwood, director

Fantazia IV in G minor, Z735
Fantazia V in B flat major, Z736
London Baroque

Theodosius, Z606 (Act 1, scene 1)
Emma Kirkby, Judith Nelson, sopranos
James Bowman, countertenor
Martyn Hill, tenor
David Thomas, bass
The Academy of Ancient Music
Christopher Hogwood, director

Fantazia VIII in D minor, Z739
Fantazia VI in F major, Z737
Fretwork

‘Welcome, vicegerent of the mighty king’, Z340
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers, conductor

Fantazia X in E minor, Z741
Fantazia XI in G major, Z742
Ricercare Consort
Philippe Pierlot, director

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today the focus is on a single remarkable year, 1680.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

02Watershed Year20190917

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today the focus is on a single year, 1680, in which Purcell emerged as one of the greatest contrapuntists of his time.

1680 was a year of firsts for Purcell – he wrote his first music for stage, fulfilled his first commission for a royal ‘welcome’ ode, took his first (and only) wife, and made his first foray into the world of chamber music, with a sequence of nine fantazias of such dazzling contrapuntal ingenuity and brilliance – not to mention expressive maturity – that you have to marvel at how a composer of just 20 could have possibly pulled off such a dazzling feat.

Theodosius, Z606 (‘Hail to the myrtle shade’)
Judith Nelson, soprano
James Bowman, countertenor
The Academy of Ancient Music
Christopher Hogwood, director

Fantazia IV in G minor, Z735
Fantazia V in B flat major, Z736
London Baroque

Theodosius, Z606 (Act 1, scene 1)
Emma Kirkby, Judith Nelson, sopranos
James Bowman, countertenor
Martyn Hill, tenor
David Thomas, bass
The Academy of Ancient Music
Christopher Hogwood, director

Fantazia VIII in D minor, Z739
Fantazia VI in F major, Z737
Fretwork

‘Welcome, vicegerent of the mighty king’, Z340
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers, conductor

Fantazia X in E minor, Z741
Fantazia XI in G major, Z742
Ricercare Consort
Philippe Pierlot, director

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today the focus is on a single remarkable year, 1680.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

03Music for Occasions20190918

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, pieces he wrote to mark specific events, from King Charles’ escape from shipwreck to the passing of Queen Mary.

Given that so little is known about Purcell’s life, it’s gratifying that a fair number of his compositions can be pinned to particular occasions. Many of these were commissions, like the two Cecilian Odes he wrote for The Musical Society in 1683 and 1692, or the sequence of royal ‘welcome’ odes that began in 1680 with ‘Welcome, vicegerent of the mighty king’ and ended with ‘Who can from joy refrain’, Purcell’s ode celebrating the sixth birthday of Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, which he wrote in 1695, the year before his death. ‘They that go down to the sea in ships’ was written after the event it commemorates – the narrow escape of the king and his yachting party when a nasty storm blew up around the North Foreland off the Isle of Thanet; having narrowly survived its maiden voyage, the king’s new yacht, ‘Fubbs’, remained in service for the best part of a century. Occasional music can easily lapse into obscurity after the occasion it was designed for is over – a fate that certainly hasn’t befallen the music Purcell provided for the funeral of Queen Mary, whose stark grandeur achieves a kind of universal expression of grief. Grief runs through Purcell’s early Funeral Sentences, which were probably written when he was still a chorister at the Chapel Royal. It’s not known whose death they commemorate – perhaps that of one of his musical mentors.

March, Z860
Collegium Vocale Gent
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

Funeral Sentences (Man that is born of a woman, Z27 – In the midst of life, Z17 – Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, Z58b)
Collegium Vocale Gent
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

Welcome to all the pleasures, Z339
Emily van Evera, soprano
Timothy Wilson, countertenor
John Mark Ainsley, Charles Daniels, tenor
David Thomas, bass
Taverner Consort, Choir & Players
Andrew Parrott, direction

They that go down to the sea in ships, Z57
Matthew Bright, alto
David Thomas, bass
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
The English Concert
Simon Preston, conductor

Of old, when heroes thought it base, Z333 (‘The bashful Thames, for beauty so renowned’ – ‘So when the glitt’ring Queen of Night’)
John Mark Ainsley, tenor
The English Concert
Trevor Pinnock, conductor

Who can from joy refrain, Z342 (‘If he now burns with noble flame’)
Gillian Fisher, Tessa Bonner, soprano
The King’s Consort
Robert King, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, pieces he wrote to mark specific events.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

03Music For Occasions20190918

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, pieces he wrote to mark specific events, from King Charles’ escape from shipwreck to the passing of Queen Mary.

Given that so little is known about Purcell’s life, it’s gratifying that a fair number of his compositions can be pinned to particular occasions. Many of these were commissions, like the two Cecilian Odes he wrote for The Musical Society in 1683 and 1692, or the sequence of royal ‘welcome’ odes that began in 1680 with ‘Welcome, vicegerent of the mighty king’ and ended with ‘Who can from joy refrain’, Purcell’s ode celebrating the sixth birthday of Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, which he wrote in 1695, the year before his death. ‘They that go down to the sea in ships’ was written after the event it commemorates – the narrow escape of the king and his yachting party when a nasty storm blew up around the North Foreland off the Isle of Thanet; having narrowly survived its maiden voyage, the king’s new yacht, ‘Fubbs’, remained in service for the best part of a century. Occasional music can easily lapse into obscurity after the occasion it was designed for is over – a fate that certainly hasn’t befallen the music Purcell provided for the funeral of Queen Mary, whose stark grandeur achieves a kind of universal expression of grief. Grief runs through Purcell’s early Funeral Sentences, which were probably written when he was still a chorister at the Chapel Royal. It’s not known whose death they commemorate – perhaps that of one of his musical mentors.

March, Z860
Collegium Vocale Gent
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

Funeral Sentences (Man that is born of a woman, Z27 – In the midst of life, Z17 – Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, Z58b)
Collegium Vocale Gent
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

Welcome to all the pleasures, Z339
Emily van Evera, soprano
Timothy Wilson, countertenor
John Mark Ainsley, Charles Daniels, tenor
David Thomas, bass
Taverner Consort, Choir & Players
Andrew Parrott, direction

They that go down to the sea in ships, Z57
Matthew Bright, alto
David Thomas, bass
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
The English Concert
Simon Preston, conductor

Of old, when heroes thought it base, Z333 (‘The bashful Thames, for beauty so renowned’ – ‘So when the glitt’ring Queen of Night’)
John Mark Ainsley, tenor
The English Concert
Trevor Pinnock, conductor

Who can from joy refrain, Z342 (‘If he now burns with noble flame’)
Gillian Fisher, Tessa Bonner, soprano
The King’s Consort
Robert King, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, pieces he wrote to mark specific events.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

04Purcell's Venues20190919

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, an excursion round six key Purcellian venues, from pint-sized York Buildings to gargantuan Westminster Abbey.

Music-lovers in late-seventeenth-century London had plenty of opportunity to hear Purcell’s music, and in all sorts of places, from taverns to palaces. But above all it was associated with a select group of venues. In the chapel of the old Palace of Whitehall, Purcell’s ‘symphony anthems’ were regularly heard. The vast, reverberant spaces of Westminster Abbey drew from him a more expansive kind of choral music. During Purcell’s lifetime, York Buildings was London’s only purpose-built concert hall, but its tiny dimensions – around 900 square feet – made it unsuitable for large-scale performances; for these, Stationers’ Hall was the venue of choice. Purcell spent much of the last five years of his life producing music for the theatre, in particular for the Duke’s Theatre in Dorset Garden, which was equipped to stage the most spectacular productions. The more modest Hall Theatre, originally the medieval hall at the centre of the Palace of Whitehall, is where Purcell’s welcome songs and royal birthday odes would have been heard.

The Fairy Queen, Z629 (Act 3, Symphony while the swans come forward)
The Monteverdi Choir
The English Baroque Orchestra
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Rejoice in the Lord alway, Z49 (‘Bell anthem’)
The Choir of New College, Oxford
The Band of Instruments
Edward Higginbottom, director

Ye tuneful Muses, Z344 (‘Ye tuneful Muses, raise your heads’ – ‘This point of time ends all your grief’)
Ben Davies, Stuart Young, bass
Jeremy Budd, tenor
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers, conductor

Hail, Bright Cecilia, Z328 (Symphony)
Gabrieli Players
Paul McCreesh, conductor

My heart is inditing, Z30
Tessa Bonner, Patrizia Kwella, soprano
Kai Wessel, countertenor
Paul Agnew, William Kendall, tenor
Peter Kooy, bass
Collegium Vocale Gent
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

The Fairy Queen, Z629
(Act 4, extract)
Gillian Fisher, soprano (an attendant)
Simon Berridge, Philip Daggett, tenor
Ian Partridge, tenor (Phoebus)
The Sixteen
The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Harry Christophers, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, an excursion around six key Purcellian venues.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

04Purcell's Venues20190919

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, an excursion round six key Purcellian venues, from pint-sized York Buildings to gargantuan Westminster Abbey.

Music-lovers in late-seventeenth-century London had plenty of opportunity to hear Purcell’s music, and in all sorts of places, from taverns to palaces. But above all it was associated with a select group of venues. In the chapel of the old Palace of Whitehall, Purcell’s ‘symphony anthems’ were regularly heard. The vast, reverberant spaces of Westminster Abbey drew from him a more expansive kind of choral music. During Purcell’s lifetime, York Buildings was London’s only purpose-built concert hall, but its tiny dimensions – around 900 square feet – made it unsuitable for large-scale performances; for these, Stationers’ Hall was the venue of choice. Purcell spent much of the last five years of his life producing music for the theatre, in particular for the Duke’s Theatre in Dorset Garden, which was equipped to stage the most spectacular productions. The more modest Hall Theatre, originally the medieval hall at the centre of the Palace of Whitehall, is where Purcell’s welcome songs and royal birthday odes would have been heard.

The Fairy Queen, Z629 (Act 3, Symphony while the swans come forward)
The Monteverdi Choir
The English Baroque Orchestra
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Rejoice in the Lord alway, Z49 (‘Bell anthem’)
The Choir of New College, Oxford
The Band of Instruments
Edward Higginbottom, director

Ye tuneful Muses, Z344 (‘Ye tuneful Muses, raise your heads’ – ‘This point of time ends all your grief’)
Ben Davies, Stuart Young, bass
Jeremy Budd, tenor
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers, conductor

Hail, Bright Cecilia, Z328 (Symphony)
Gabrieli Players
Paul McCreesh, conductor

My heart is inditing, Z30
Tessa Bonner, Patrizia Kwella, soprano
Kai Wessel, countertenor
Paul Agnew, William Kendall, tenor
Peter Kooy, bass
Collegium Vocale Gent
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

The Fairy Queen, Z629
(Act 4, extract)
Gillian Fisher, soprano (an attendant)
Simon Berridge, Philip Daggett, tenor
Ian Partridge, tenor (Phoebus)
The Sixteen
The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
Harry Christophers, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, an excursion around six key Purcellian venues.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

05The Intimate Purcell20190920

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, the relatively small but extraordinarily rich body of work he wrote for intimate, domestic settings.

Earlier programmes this week have primarily focused on music for the liturgy, for the theatre, or for some grand occasion or another, all showing us Purcell’s public face. His smaller-scale work – catches, songs, keyboard and chamber music – is generally less well-known, but contains some absolute gems. In a sense, it’s the music that Purcell didn’t have to write.

‘Since the Duke is return’d’, Z271
The Sixteen (Nicholas Mulroy, George Pooley, Jeremy Budd, tenors)
Harry Christophers, conductor

Overture in G, Z770
London Baroque

Suite No 7 in D minor, Z668
Kenneth Gilbert, harpsichord (Couchet-Taskin, Anvers 1671)

Sonata No 7 in E minor, Z796 (Twelve Sonnata’s of III Parts)
Purcell Quartet

‘O! Fair Cedaria, hide those eyes’, Z402
‘I resolve against cringing and whining’, Z386
‘I take no pleasure in the sun’s bright beams’, Z388
‘She loves and she confesses too’, Z413
Maarten Koningsberger, baritone
Fred Jacobs, theorbo

Sonata No 6 in G minor, Z807 (Ten Sonata’s in Four Parts)
The Locke Consort

‘Tell me, some pitying angel’, Z196 (‘The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation’)
Carolyn Sampson, soprano
Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo
Anne-Marie Lasla, bass viol
Laurence Cummings, harpsichord

Fantasia upon one note, Z745
Hespèrion XXI
Jordi Savall, director

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales.

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, music for intimate, domestic settings.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

05 LASTThe Intimate Purcell20190920

Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, the relatively small but extraordinarily rich body of work he wrote for intimate, domestic settings.

Earlier programmes this week have primarily focused on music for the liturgy, for the theatre, or for some grand occasion or another, all showing us Purcell’s public face. His smaller-scale work – catches, songs, keyboard and chamber music – is generally less well-known, but contains some absolute gems. In a sense, it’s the music that Purcell didn’t have to write.

‘Since the Duke is return’d’, Z271
The Sixteen (Nicholas Mulroy, George Pooley, Jeremy Budd, tenors)
Harry Christophers, conductor

Overture in G, Z770
London Baroque

Suite No 7 in D minor, Z668
Kenneth Gilbert, harpsichord (Couchet-Taskin, Anvers 1671)

Sonata No 7 in E minor, Z796 (Twelve Sonnata’s of III Parts)
Purcell Quartet

‘O! Fair Cedaria, hide those eyes’, Z402
‘I resolve against cringing and whining’, Z386
‘I take no pleasure in the sun’s bright beams’, Z388
‘She loves and she confesses too’, Z413
Maarten Koningsberger, baritone
Fred Jacobs, theorbo

Sonata No 6 in G minor, Z807 (Ten Sonata’s in Four Parts)
The Locke Consort

‘Tell me, some pitying angel’, Z196 (‘The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation’)
Carolyn Sampson, soprano
Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo
Anne-Marie Lasla, bass viol
Laurence Cummings, harpsichord

Fantasia upon one note, Z745
Hespèrion XXI
Jordi Savall, director

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Cymru Wales.

The music and life of Henry Purcell. Today, music for intimate, domestic settings.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.