Henry Purcell Born in 1659 in England
Henry’s Childhood Purcell Purcell is generally considered to have been the greatest English composer since William Byrd. Fortunately for Henry, Byrd had been dead for several years when Purcell was born, so the two of them didn’t have a showdown. Byrd
Henry’s Childhood Purcell began his musical career as a boy, singing in the Chapel Royal (the king’s very own choir). The choir was still in its early stages and one writer stated “not one lad was capable of singing his part readily.”
To solve this problem, King Charles II (the king of England at that time) gave the choir director permission to send out talent scouts across the country to steal promising young boys from other choirs. Who do you think was upset by this?
In 1673, Henry’s voice broke, but the King didn’t want to let the talented boy go. He was given the apprentice job of “keeper, maker, mender, repairer, and tuner of the regalls, organs, flutes, recorders, and all other kind of wind instruments whatsoever.” Purcell shortened that title to “Maker of the King’s Instruments.”
After Henry’s voice change slowed down, he again joined the king’s choir, but now as a “Gentleman” of the Chapel Royal. This choir sang in Westminster Abbey, and he eventually became the organist at this fantastic cathedral. Nobody is sure how old the Westminster Abbey is, but it is believed to be around 1000 years old.
In addition to their regular salary, each of the 32 Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal received an annual bonus. Originally, this consisted of three deer, but was later changed to a sum of money, which was more easily divided by the 32 men. It was certainly less messy.
After being organist for a while, Purcell also became the composer for the King’s violins (Henry’s first composing position)
In 1685, King Charles II died and was succeeded by King James II. Fortunately for Purcell, the new king kept Purcell in his position and even asked him to compose some music for his coronation. What is a coronation?
King James II only lasted 4 years as king before he died and King William III and Queen Mary II became the new monarchs of England. William III and Mary II were not only husband and wife, but also first cousins. As before, Purcell composed music for their coronation too.
Purcell was well paid for composing for the coronation, so he started composing songs for weddings, birthdays, and for the departure and return of important people.
With extra time on his hands, Purcell began composing some music for the theater, including a bunch of mini-operas and one full length opera called “Dido and Aeneas.” This song is called “Dido’s Lament.” Dido and Aeneas
The "moral" of the story is that young women should not yield to the advances of eager young men and their promises.
In time, Purcell became increasingly in demand as a composer. It was his theater music in particular that made him familiar to many who knew nothing of his church music or the odes and welcome songs he wrote for the court.
Queen Mary loved England and the English people loved her. So when she died in 1694, Purcell wrote a very moving piece called, of course, “Funeral Music for Queen Mary.” You are listening to it right now.
Just in case some people didn’t hear “Funeral Music for Queen Mary,” Purcell died the very next year in 1695, and that same piece was played at his funeral too.
To make his funeral more interesting, the church leaders of the Westminster Abbey buried Henry beneath the pipe organ that he played. His epigraph reads, “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded.”
Listening: (click to start) Composer:Henry Purcell Songs: 1. If Music Be the Food of Love 2. Funeral Music for Queen Mary