Henry Purcell is thought to be the best English composer of his time. Not until the twentieth century did an English composer display his talent.
Purcell’s father was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and sang at the coronation of King Charles II. As a result of his father’s position Henry became a chorister until his voice broke at the age of fourteen.
In 1673 Purcell became assistant to the Keeper of the King’s Instruments. He quickly progressed through various positions and became composer of King Charles II’s string orchestra. In 1679 he took the position of organist of Westminster Abbey. In 1682 he also gained the position as one of the three organists at the Chapel Royal – this role ran simultaneously with that of Westminster Abbey. Purcell retained all his official posts through the reigns of Charles II, James II, William III and Mary.
It is believed that Purcell started composing at the early age of nine, however there are no works to confirm until he wrote an Ode for King Charles II birthday in 1670 (aged 11).
Purcell wrote a wide variety of music including that for the stage, court, private entertainment and church.
Purcell married and had six children, as with many children of this time three of them died in infancy.
Death & His Music
Sadly Purcell was hit with a terrible illness leading to an early death at the age of just thirty six. His unfinished work was completed by his brother Daniel who then became popular as a result of his brother’s death.
Purcell’s music influenced some of the English composers of the twentieth century in particularly Benjamin Britten who arranged many of Purcell’s vocal works for voice and piano into his Britten’s Purcell Realizations.
Today there is also an organisation called the Henry Purcell Society of Boston who perform live concerts of Purcell’s work (due to the current COVID pandemic they are just live streaming). I wonder what Henry Purcell would think knowing that his music is listened to in forms not even imagined over three hundred years ago.