Born on 10th of September 1659
Died in London
Though Purcell’s life was a short one, he was greatly honoured and very successful in his own day, and the best of his music remains popular still, ranging from incidental songs through opera to grand pieces for great state occasions.
Born in Westminster (probably on September 10 1659) he was destined for a musical career from birth, his father Thomas a court musician, his uncle Henry a composer (and later his brother Daniel organist at Magdelen College Oxford). A prodigy, he began composing early in his life, and was made composer for the King’s violins in 1677, and two years later was appointed organist at Westminster Abbey when the then incumbent resigned to allow Purcell to take up the post. At the same period he began composing songs for various stage plays, including Thomas Shadwell’s The Libertine, which gave us his great song Nymphs and Shepherds.
Purcell soaked up both Italian and French influences, but his music is very identifiable as British: he wrote the first Te Deum by an English composer incorporating orchestral accompaniment; he composed the anthems for Mary II’s funeral; and he left a legacy of other choral works that are of significance in establishing a definite English tradition.
Dido and Aeneas was his only true opera, still performed today, and with Dido’s Lament often performed at galas and recitals. He also wrote five ‘semi-operas’, more like masques than our modern concept of operas.
Henry Purcell died very young, on November 21 1695, according to legend because his wife Frances had become fed up with his frequently tardy returns home, and had him locked out of their Westminster house, causing him to take a chill. He is buried near the organ in Westminster Abbey.
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