Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell

Excerpt

These are interesting times for lovers of Henry Purcell's music. The commercial bandwagon of the 1995 tercentenary has begun to roll, propelled by ambitious plans for performances, recordings, conferences, exhibitions, films, television programmes, and media events. The complete edition of Purcell's music, started by the Purcell Society in 1878, and under revision since the 1960s, will soon be complete. At the present rate of progress it will not be long before virtually all his music is available on CD.

Purcell scholarship, too, is on the move after a fallow period. Thanks to Andrew Ashbee splendid series of Records of English Court Music, we now have a much clearer idea of musical life at the Restoration court.Andrew Pinnock, Bruce Wood, and others have thrown new light onPurcell theatre music, re-evaluating the sources, and drawing on literary and theatre scholarship to a greater extent than before. As a result, a number of cherished notions have been challenged: we are no longer so sure that Dido and Aeneas was written in 1689 for Josiah Priest's girls' school in Chelsea, and that it is an allegory of the Glorious Revolution. There is renewed interest in Purcell's autographs, fuelled by the discovery of two new examples in the last few months: a volume of keyboard music copied partly by Purcell and partly by his Italian colleague Giovanni Battista Draghi (see Ch. 3), and a single sheet containing an anthem by Daniel Roseingrave, the music copied by Purcell, the words added by the composer (see Ch. 1).

The prospective writer on Purcell can only view all this with a mixture of elation and alarm. I am only too aware that new research over the next few years will probably make parts of this book out of date. Purcell scholars are only now beginning to investigate the sources of his music in detail, looking at paper types, watermarks, the evidence of rastra, and so on. Studies of this sort have revolutionized our knowledge of the music of Bach and Mozart, and there is every reason to think that they will do . . .

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