Monday, November 21, 2011

Hail Bright Henry

Hail Henry Purcell who died this day in 1695. Born in  1659(ish) he was the most English of all English baroque composers and is still perhaps the greatest composer that the fairest isle has produced.

He was a boy choister in the Chapel Royal and later organist there. Indeed for a time he was organist both there and at Westminster Abbey. As such he produced much sacred music and much too in celebration or commemoration of members of the royal family. Odes, anthems and processionals galore; sacred and really not so sacred. All this in a short life that ended in only his mid 30s.

"She loves and She Confesses Too. "
Susan Gritton /The Kings Consort

"O Solitude". Alfred Dellar

Perhaps most importantly he is the first English opera composer. He might not have written the first English opera, that seems to have been Venus and Adonis by Purcell's teacher Dr John Blow, but his Dido and Aeneas is magnificent. This is true opera in that the action procedes by sung recitative not spoken dialogue.

"When I am Laid in Earth" Dido and Aeneas
 Emma Kirkby, Taverner Players/Andrew Parrott

Purcell wrote enormous amounts of theatre music and several semi-operas (with spoken dialogue) including King Arthur, The Fairy Queen and  The Tempest  (the jury seems again to be out on the latter).

"What Power Art Thou" (The Cold Song) King Arthur
Andreas Scholl, countertenor
Ensemble Artaserse
For many years Purcell's music was largely over looked by the English, we are a modest and self-effacing people after all as everyone knows.
Happily we came to our senses and he is now recognised as the master that he was.

The last word goes to Gerard Manley Hopkins.

"The poet wishes well to the divine genius of Purcell and praises him that, whereas other musicians have given utterance to the moods of man's mind, he has, beyond that, uttered in notes the very make and species of man as created both in him and in all men generally."

HAVE, fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen, so dear
To me, so arch-especial a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell,
An age is now since passed, since parted; with the reversal
Of the outward sentence low lays him, listed to a heresy, here.
Not mood in him nor meaning, proud fire or sacred fear,        
Or love or pity or all that sweet notes not his might nursle:
It is the forgèd feature finds me; it is the rehearsal
Of own, of abrupt self there so thrusts on, so throngs the ear.
Let him Oh! with his air of angels then lift me, lay me! only I’ll
Have an eye to the sakes of him, quaint moonmarks, to his pelted plumage under        
Wings: so some great stormfowl, whenever he has walked his while
The thunder-purple seabeach plumèd purple-of-thunder,
If a wuthering of his palmy snow-pinions scatter a colossal smile
Off him, but meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder.

I couldn't have put it better myself


  1. Purcell and Father Hopkins in one post. Splendid.

  2. And I only found the Hopkins today! I thought you'd be tickled.

  3. I discovered the music of Purcell through my love for this poem. They are both magnificent!