Music of the Baroque

Major Baroque Composers

Italy

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643):
A student of Marc’Antonio Ingegneri in Cremona, Claudio Monteverdi quickly established himself as one of the most significant composers of his time. In 1592 he was appointed suonatore di vivuola (viol and/or violin player) to Duke Vincenzo I of Mantua; his third book of madrigals, published in 1592, shows the strong influence of Giaches de Wert, the maestro di cappella in Mantua. Although the several journeys Monteverdi made with the duke in the 1590s seem to suggest that his importance at court was growing, Benedetto Pallavicino was offered de Wert’s post upon its vacancy in 1596. Increasingly dissatisfied with the his situation in Mantua, Monteverdi left the court after the Duke’s death, accepting the position of maestro di cappella of St. Mark’s in Venice in 1613. Monteverdi wrote some of the most influential compositions of the early baroque, including the famous 1610 Vespro della Beate Vergine (Vespers of the Blessed Virgin) and nine books of secular madrigals published between 1587 and 1651. Monteverdi also composed the earliest operas still performed today, including Orfeo (1607) and L'incoronazione di Poppea.

In addition to writing some of the most important music of his day, Monteverdi unwittingly elucidated perhaps the most critical tenet of the baroque era during the so-called “Monteverdi-Artusi controversy.” In 1600, Giovanni Maria Artusi published his L'Artusi, ovvero, Delle imperfezioni della moderna musica, which attacked the “crudities” and “license” of some of Monteverdi’s then-unpublished madrigals (including the well known “Cruda Amarilli”). Monteverdi responded to Artusi in the preface to his Fifth Book of Madrigals (1605), dividing musical practice into prima prattica (first practice), in which rules of harmony and counterpoint took precedence over the text, and seconda prattica (second practice), in which the meaning of the words drove the harmony.

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Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643):
Born in Ferrara, Girolamo Frescobaldi was a student of the organist and madrigalist Luzzasco Luzzaschi; he was also likely influenced by the maverick composer Carlo Gesualdo, who was also in Ferrara at the time. Frescobaldi was a famous keyboardist, and served as the organist at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome before assuming the same post at St Peter's in 1608, which he held until his death. During this time he also held several other influential positions, including that of organist at the Medici court in Florence from 1628 to 1634. Frescobaldi composed a small amount of vocal music, but it was his compositions for the keyboard—which included a number of toccatas, canzonas, ricercars and capriccios—that influenced composers well into the 18th century—particularly J. S. Bach, who owned his collection of organ works for performance during Mass entitled Fiori musicali (1635).

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Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713):
Born in Fusignano, Arcangelo Corelli studied composition and violin in nearby Bologna. After 1675 Corelli worked for some of the most important musical patrons in Rome, including Queen Christina of Sweden, for whom he directed concerts. He also formed a close bond not typical between patron and composer with Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (later Pope Alexander VIII), at whose palace he lived for some time. Corelli enjoyed a stellar reputation both in Rome, where he was accepted in the highest aristocratic circles, and in much of Europe. His six published collections of concertos, sonatas and other works for violin were extremely popular, and made him the first composer to gain an international reputation solely on the basis of his instrumental music. Because his music uses many of the harmonic progressions that came to form the basis of modern tonality, his works are sometimes used as early examples of this newly emergent tonal system.

Along with his stature as a composer, Corelli was considered to be one of the preeminent violin virtuosos of his day. As one of his contemporaries rhapsodized after hearing him play, “I never met with any man that suffered his passions to hurry him away so much whilst he was playing on the violin as the famous Arcangelo Corelli, whose eyes will sometimes turn as red as fire; his countenance will be distorted, his eyeballs roll as in an agony, and he gives in so much to what he is doing that he doth not look like the same man.” Corelli’s style of playing influenced violin technique for centuries, and he instructed many of the leading violinist-composers of the 18th century, including the Italian Francesco Geminiani.

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741):
Born in Venice, Antonio Vivaldi was trained in music as a child, but was ordained as a priest in 1703. Although his vocation and striking red hair earned him the moniker “Il Prete Rosso” (the Red Priest), his picturesque nickname soon became the only vestige of his priestly duties. Within a year of his ordination, Vivaldi stated that he no longer wished to celebrate the mass because of “tightness of the chest,” a condition some have attributed to angina pectoris, asthmatic bronchitis—or simply to the fact that music was the Red Priest’s true calling.

Around 1704, Vivaldi began his association with the Ospedale della Pietà, an institution with which he was connected for most of his life. Although the Ospedale was usually called an orphanage, it was in reality a home for the illegitimate daughters of Venetian noblemen, and was well financed by its “anonymous” benefactors. In addition to room, board, and an excellent education in music, the Pietà offered a creative outlet for women at a time when professional opportunities for female musicians were uncertain. The students of the Pietà played many different instruments (as one eighteenth-century writer observed, “[They] play the violin, the recorder, the organ, the oboe, the cello, the bassoon; in fact, there is no instrument large enough to frighten them”) and were considered to be among the most accomplished performers of their time. Because they were constantly in need of new music, the bulk of Vivaldi’s output—including almost 500 concertos, 46 sinfonias, 73 sonatas, chamber music and a small number of sacred compositions – was likely intended for these talented performers.

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Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725):
A student of Giacomo Carissimi in Rome, Alessandro Scarlatti became the maestro di cappella of the viceroy of Naples in 1684 perhaps by way of his sister, an opera singer and the mistress of an influential Neapolitan noble. Scarlatti wrote over 100 operas, and his works are thought to represent the change in approach to the genre—including the standardization of forms, embellishment of arias and minimization of recitatives—that took place at the end of the 17th century, ultimately leading to the subgenre opera seria. In addition to opera, Scarlatti composed more than 600 cantatas and a number of oratorios. His fame today rests primarily on his vocal music, but Scarlatti received frequent commissions for instrumental music during his career as well.

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Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757):
The sixth son of Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti likely received the best musical education Naples had to offer. Around 1708, the elder Scarlatti took his son to Venice to study with Francesco Gasparini (1668–1727), who had been a pupil of Corelli. From Venice the younger Scarlatti journeyed to Rome—reportedly with Handel—where the two men performed before Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. About 1720 Scarlatti moved to Lisbon, and some ten years later to Madrid. He is known today primarily for his keyboard sonatas, in which his frequent borrowings from Hispanic folk tunes and rhythms create a unique sound that is sometimes called “Iberian Baroque.”

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Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736):
Born in Jesi in 1710, Pergolesi studied under Francesco Sartini. He moved to Naples in 1725, where he spent his brief career working in the Neapolitan courts. While in Naples, Pergolesi joined Alessandro Scarlatti in pioneering the changes underway in the genre of opera, particularly in the new opera buffa (comic opera). In 1733, he included within his opera Il prigioner superbo the two act buffa intermezzo La serva padrona (The Landlady Servant), which immediately became popular in its own right. Its premiere in Paris in 1752 sparked the so-called querelle des bouffons (quarrel of the comedians), a debate between devotees of serious French opera in the style of Lully and Rameau and fans of the new style of Italian comic opera. During the course of the two-year dispute, Pergolesi’s work became the figurehead of the Italian style.

In addition to numerous operas, Pergolesi composed a number of secular instrumental works and sacred pieces. His best known sacred composition is the Stabat Mater (1736), commissioned to replace a similar piece by Alessandro Scarlatti which had been performed for years on Good Friday in Naples. Reprinted more often than any other composition in the 18th century, the Stabat Mater was an inspiration to many, including J. S. Bach. Pergolesi’s instrumental compositions include a concerto and sonata for the violin. Many pieces believed to have been composed by Pergolesi were later shown to be falsely attributed, including the music on which Igor Stravinsky based the 1920 ballet Pulcinella.

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France

François Couperin (1668–1733):
Born in Paris in 1668, François Couperin was the son of Charles Couperin (1638–79), the organist at St Gervais in Paris. After inheriting his father's position at the age of 18, Couperin eventually became the harpsichordist at Versailles as well. From the start of his career, Couperin was something of a nonconformist. In his publications of harpsichord music Couperin grouped his works into ordres rather than the more typical suites, and often eschewed the usual dance movements in favor of evocative pièces de caractère. In order to ensure that his music was properly performed, Couperin published L'art de toucher le clavecin (1716), which included fingerings, instructions for ornamentation and playing dotted rhythms and eight preludes that could serve as introductions to the eight ordres of his first and second books.

In addition to his keyboard music, Couperin composed a number of sacred vocal works that were heavily influenced by Italian cantatas and sonatas, and his interest in the juxtaposition of French and Italian styles continued throughout his lifetime. His publications in his final decade offer striking illustrations of this preoccupation, including the Concert instrumental à la mémoire de Monsieur de Lully (1725) in which Lully and Corelli are received by Apollo on Mount Parnassus and together compose “La paix du Parnasse” in the form of a trio sonata. An even more direct fusing of the two styles occurs in Les nations (1726) and in his suites for bass viols (1728), of which the first is a French ordre and the second an Italian sonata da chiesa. Couperin remained somewhat controversial for much of his career. While some critics dismissed him as a “dedicated servant of Italy,” others viewed the quality of his playing and compositions as the epitome of the French classical tradition.

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Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687):
One of the most dominant figures of the French baroque, Giovanni Battista Lulli (later Jean-Baptiste Lully) was actually an Italian of noble birth who arrived in Paris in 1646. In 1653, he began work at the Court of Louis XIV as an instrumental composer and dancer. Upon securing the position of superintendent of music in 1661, Lully started writing comédies-ballets with the playwright Molière, fusing the tradition of Italian pastoral opera with the French ballet du cour. In 1672 he acquired the license for the Académie de musique, and a series of highly restrictive patents gave him a total monopoly on the use of music on the French stage. Lully even persuaded the king to limit the number of singers and instrumentalists that could perform with other Parisian theater troupes.

The apotheosis of Lully’s style was the tragédie-lyrique, a French opera in five acts incorporating ballet, chorus and lavish sets. The magnificence of these productions reflected the way of life in Louis XIV’s court perfectly. Machines that made angels fly and ships tackle the stormy seas transformed the performances unparalleled spectacles, and Philippe Quinault’s librettos disseminated the latest currents in royal thought and praise for the French nation.

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Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1645–1704):
Believed to be from a family of royal painters, Charpentier studied with Carissimi in Rome in the 1660s before returning to Paris around 1670. In addition to his position as maître de musique at the residence of Marie de Lorraine, Mademoiselle de Guise, which lasted until her death in 1688, he became Molière's musical collaborator when the dramatist broke with Lully in 1672. Although Molière's death in 1673 put a premature end to their partnership, Charpentier continued working with the Comédie-française. Louis XIV liked his theater music so much that he granted him a pension in 1683.

In addition to his employment in the secular realm, Charpentier held several posts in the church during the final decades of his life. After serving as the maître of the Jesuits' St. Louis church, Charpentier became the maître de musique des enfants at the Sainte Chapelle in 1698. As a result of these positions, Charpentier’s repertoire includes 11 Mass settings; a large number of Psalms, antiphons, sequences and lessons; more than 200 motets; and many instrumental works intended for performance in church. His best known works for the stage are La couronne de fleurs (1685), David et Jonathas (1688), and Médée (1693), and he also wrote three unpublished treatises.

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Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683–1764):
Born in Dijon in 1683, Rameau spent the first 40 years of his life working in the relative obscurity of the provinces. His move to Paris and the publication of his famous Traité de l'harmonie in 1722 brought him into the limelight, although he was still unable to secure employment. In 1726, he published his second and more contentious treatise, Nouveau système de musique théorique, which led him into rancorous public disputes in the pages of the Mercure de France (1729-30). Rameau’s early operas, including Hippolyte and Aricie (1733), were also the subject of controversy, sparking a lengthy debate between the old-fashioned Lullists and the avant-garde Ramists over the identity of “French opera.”

In addition to serving as the maître de musique at the home of the financier La Poupliniere from about 1735 until 1753, Rameau began work at court as the King’s compositeur de la musique in 1745 and collaborated on several projects with Voltaire. In the final decade of his life, Rameau focused more on theory than on actual composition, corresponding with other important music theorists including Johann Mattheson. His ideas about harmony, particularly the notion that every chord has a basse fondamentale (root note) that preserves the identity of the chord even when its notes are reordered, form the basis of modern theories of tonality. Upon Rameau’s death in 1764, over 1500 people attended his memorial service, which featured over 180 musicians performing excerpts from his operas.

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Germany

Michael Praetorius (1571–1621):
A student of Martin Luther, Praetorius was theorganist at the Marienkirche in Frankfurt before he became the organist (1603) and Kapellmeister (1604) at the court in Wolfenbüttel. His post necessitated a great deal of travel, which allowed him to advertise his talents as a conductor, organist and knowledgeable expert on practical music and on musical instruments. An extremely prolific composer of Lutheran church music, Praetorius’s magnum opus is the 9-volume Musae Sioniae, which contains over a thousand chorale and song settings. His only surviving secular work is Terpsichore , a set of 312 dances. In addition to his music, Praetorius provided an invaluable reference for researchers in the form of his three volume Syntagma Musicum (1619), a detailed compendium of observations on contemporary German music, musical instruments and performance.

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Johann Hermann Schein (1586–1630):
After studies in music and in law, Schein held positions as house music director at Schloss Weissenfels and Kapellmeister to Duke Johann Ernst the Younger at Weimar before succeeding Calvisius in 1616 as music director and cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, a position J. S. Bach was to hold over a century later. Schein was one of the major figures in the development of the sacred concerto, one of the genres that fueled Bach’s Lutheran cantatas, and also composed many spiritual madrigals, motets, songs, dance suites and chorale harmonizations. Although his early compositions favor the complex polyphony of the sixteenth century, he quickly abandoned this style in favor of the more modern trend toward emotional declamation and dramatic contrast, using them to great advantage in many of his sacred works. Schein is also known for his friendships with Scheidt and Schütz.

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Samuel Scheidt (1587–1653):
Born in Halle, Scheidt studied music in Amsterdam with the famous composer Sweelinck. Upon returning to Halle, he became court organist and them Kapellmeister to the Margrave of Brandenburg. Unlike many other composers including Schütz, Scheidt stayed in Halle during the Thirty Years’ War, taking a series of smaller posts until the situation permitted him to return to his position as Kapellmeister. Scheidt worked with a number of other famous composers throughout his career, such as Praetorius and Schütz, and composed many volumes of sacred music that include sacred concertos and madrigals. He was also well known among his contemporaries for his instrumental music, particularly his chorale preludes and fantasias for keyboard.

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Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672):
Born in Köstritz, Schütz first studied music with his father, who was an innkeeper. In 1598, a guest at the inn—the Landgrave Moritz von Hessen-Kassel—heard the young boy sing, and was so taken with his talent that he asked Schütz’s father if he could be in charge of his music education. In addition to his studies with the landgrave’s Kapellmeister, Schütz studied law at the University of Marburg, graduating with honors in 1608. In 1609, the landgrave gave Schütz a grant to travel to Venice, where he studied composition with Giovanni Gabrieli until 1613. After a short stint as the landgrave’s organist, Schütz became the court composer for the Elector of Saxony in Dresden in 1615, where Praetorius was also occasionally employed. Schütz held this position for the rest of his career. During the Thirty Years’ War, however, he studied briefly with Claudio Monteverdi in Venice and served as Kapellmeister to King Christian IV of Denmark for several years.

Perhaps as a result of his studies in Italy, Schütz is sometimes credited with bringing the Italianate style to Germany. Like Monteverdi, Schütz often made use of pungent dissonances to express the meaning of the text, and even employed special technical figures in analogy to or taken from classical rhetoric. His two trips to Italy yielded collections of music that show his assimilation of the Italian style, especially his Il primo libro de madrigali (1611), dedicated to the landgrave and displaying the results of his studies with Gabrieli, and the Symphoniae sacrae (1629), which were published at the end of his time in Venice. In 1627 Schütz also produced the first German opera, Dafne, the music of which no longer exists. He is best known for his sacred vocal music, however, particularly his three books of Symphoniae sacrae, the Psalms of David, the Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz (the Seven Last Words on the Cross) and his three Passion settings, which were composed shortly before the end of his life.

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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767):
Born in Magdeburg in 1681, Telemann came from a family long connected with the Lutheran church: his father was a clergyman, his mother the daughter of a clergyman and his elder brother also followed in the family’s footsteps. Telemann’s destiny lay elsewhere, however. By the age of 10, he was proficient on the violin, flute, keyboard and zither, and even wrote an opera, Sigismundus, at twelve. Her son’s ever-increasing interest in music worried his mother, who confiscated his instruments and forced him to take up the study of jurisprudence. According to Telemann, however, on the way to Leipzig University he met none other than “Herr Georg Friedrich Handel, who was already of some importance even in those days.” This encounter was the start of a long friendship between the two men, who exchanged letters throughout their lifetimes. (On several occasions, Handel even sent Telemann, an amateur botanist, “botanical curiosities” from London). Telemann tried to keep his passion for music a secret, but he was sorely tempted “to drink Music’s philtre,” as he put it—and drink he finally did. One day, his roommate “accidentally” came across the score of Telemann's setting of the Sixth Psalm and arranged for a performance in St. Thomas's Church the following Sunday. The work was so successful that the Burgomaster of Leipzig commissioned him to write a new piece for the choir of St. Thomas every fortnight. Telemann the composer was born.

In 1702, Telemann took his first official job in music as the director of Leipzig’s opera house and one of its churches. His growing reputation in Leipzig angered Kuhnau, the city’s music director and Bach’s predecessor, who was particularly unhappy that student musicians seemed more interested in working with Telemann on opera productions than in participating in church music. In 1705, Telemann left Leipzig to become Kapellmeister to the cosmopolitan court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau), where the vogue for the French and Italian style broadened Telemann’s musical horizons. He became well acquainted with the music of Lully and Campra, composing close to 200 ouvertures and suites during his sixteen years in the position. After briefly overlapping with Bach in Eisenach and working in several other cities, Telemann was offered the Hamburg Johanneum in 1721, a post that entailed the directorship of the city’s five principal churches as well as teaching responsibilities. He remained at Hamburg for the rest of his life, and was succeeded in the post by his godson, Carl Phillipp Emmanuel Bach.

During his lifetime, Telemann enjoyed a fame that far surpassed that of his contemporary, J. S. Bach. Not only was he considered to be the better musician—and was compensated accordingly with a salary in Hamburg at least three times larger than Bach’s in Leipzig – but by all accounts he was well liked, admired for his driving ambition, impressive talent and excellent sense of humor. Often called the most prolific composer in history, Telemann’s surviving repertoire is massive, including 1043 church cantatas, 46 Passions and many operas. He also composed a large amount of instrumental music; in an autobiographical article from 1740, Telemann estimated that he had written 600 suites, about a quarter of which are extant today. One of his most ambitious was the three-installment Tafelmusik (Table Music), on whose list of subscribers was “Mr. Hendel, Docteur en Musique, Londres.”

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George Frideric Handel (1685–1759):
Like his friend Telemann, George Frideric Handel showed a great deal of musical promise during his childhood in Halle, but was initially encouraged to study law instead. Although he entered the University of Halle in 1702, he left a year later to become a violinist in the opera house at Hamburg. It was in this city that his first two operas, Almira and Nero, were produced in 1705, followed by Daphne and Florindo in 1708. Handel then traveled to Italy, premiering Rodrigo (1707) in Florence and Agrippina (1708) in Venice, where he may also have met Vivaldi. In Rome he studied with Corelli, and performed La Resurrezione (1709) and Il Trionfo del Tempo (1710). Early in 1710, Handel left Italy to become Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, George Louis, who became King George I of England in 1714. Handel moved to London in 1712, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Handel arrived in London as a famous opera composer, but English audiences proved resistant to the genre’s charms. By the early 1730s, the assaults of critics and the notoriously lascivious lifestyles of the singers had worn down London audiences, and Handel needed to find a new medium for his art. The oratorio was the perfect solution. English oratorios were similar to opera in their use of recitative and aria, but were rarely staged, and were based on stories from the Bible in the vernacular. Handel’s addition of the chorus also resonated with London audiences, who were steeped in the English tradition of anthem-singing. Ultimately, the English oratorio cemented Handel’s reputation forever—and works such as Messiah, Judas Maccabeus and Israel in Egypt are still tremendously popular today.

In addition to his operas, oratorios and well known Coronation Anthems, written for the coronation of George II, Handel composed a great deal of instrumental music still performed today. Some of the most famous were composed for royal occasions, including Water Music, written for concerts on the Thames, and Music for Royal Fireworks. Others were published for purchase by subscription, like the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi, based on the Op. 6 collection of Corelli. After becoming blind in 1751, Handel died eight years later in London. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750):
Like many composers born into a musical family, Johann Sebastian Bach received his earliest instruction from his father in Eisenach. After his father’s death in 1695, Bach studied in Ohrdruf with his brother, Johann Christoph, and also attended schools in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Lüneburg. In 1703, Bach attained his first post as organist in Arnstadt, where he stayed until 1707, followed by a year as organist in Mühlhausen. From 1708 to 1717 Bach worked for Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, first as court organist, and after 1714, as Kapellmeister. Many of his organ compositions were written during this period, including the Orgelbüchlein, as well as some of his cantatas. While in Weimar, Bach also came into contact with a great deal of Italian music, and was particularly influenced by Vivaldi’s concertos.

Bach embarked on the next phase of his career in 1717, when he became the Music Director for the Prince Leopold of Cöthen (1717–1723). Since the court chapel was Calvinist (a religion that did not use elaborate music in its services), Bach composed a great deal of instrumental music during this time, including the Brandenburg Concertos, the Suites for solo cello, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the first volume of Das wohltemperirte Clavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier) and the Orchestral Suites. While there was no need for sacred vocal music, Bach also composed a few cantatas to commemorate special events at court.

In 1723, Bach was appointed music director and cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, a position he was to hold for the rest of his career. (Bach was actually the second choice for the position, as the more famous Telemann had already refused the job). His official duties were immense, requiring him to oversee the music in the city’s four main churches, teach and provide music for municipal occasions. During his first six years in Leipzig, Bach composed four cycles of cantatas and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions. By 1729, Bach had amassed a large repertoire of music for services in Leipzig, and was able to turn his attentions elsewhere. From 1729 to 1737 (and again from 1739 to 1741), Bach served as the director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, a group of professional musicians and university students founded by Telemann in 1704. In addition to reviving many compositions from Cöthen for the Collegium’s weekly concerts, many of Bach’s secular cantatas from this time were probably composed for the group. Bach also published a number of more abstract, erudite works for publication, particuarly the four volumes entitled Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice), which hold the Six Partitas for Keyboard (Vol. I), the Italian Concerto, the French Overture (Vol. II) and the Goldberg Variations (Vol. IV); another late work along similar lines is the unfinished Die Kunst der Fuge ( The Art of Fugue).

Although he was famous during his lifetime, Bach’s contemporaries had all but dismissed him as old-fashioned by the time of his death in 1750. According to anecdotal evidence, his music was still respected; Mozart and Beethoven both reportedly studied his compositions. The true revival of Bach’s works began in 1829, however, when Felix Mendelssohn conducted a famous performance of the St. Matthew Passion in Berlin. After hearing the performance, Hegel called Bach a “grand, truly Protestant, robust and, so to speak, erudite genius which we have only recently learned again to appreciate at its full value.” Mendelssohn’s efforts to promote Bach’s music continued, and eventually led to the founding of the Bach Gesellschaft (Bach Society), an organization devoted exclusively to promoting his works.

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England

Henry Purcell (1659–1695):
As the son of a musician at court, a chorister at the Chapel Royal and a composer for three different kings, Henry Purcell spent his entire life in Westminster. After showing a proclivity for music at a young age, Purcell may have studied with John Blow in the Chapel Royal. 18th century historian Charles Burney questioned the extent of the tutelage, however, writing that “…he had a few lessons from Dr. Blow, which were sufficient to cancel all the instructions he had received from other masters, and to occasion the boast inscribed on the tomb-stone of Blow, that he had been ‘Master to the famous Mr. Henry Purcell’.”

As part of his royal duties, Purcell was expected to write music to celebrate special occasions, such as the birthday ode for Queen Mary entitled “Come Ye Sons of Art, Away.” Although Italian opera had not yet caught on in England, Purcell composed a number of “semi-operas,” such as King Arthur (1691) and The Fairy Queen (1692), and the only through-sung English opera of the seventeenth century, Dido and Aeneas (1689). Purcell also wrote a large amount of incidental music for the theater, which his widow published posthumously as A Collection of Ayres, Compos'd for the Theatre, and upon Other Occasions (1697).

In addition to his activities at court and in the theater, Purcell was also involved with the advent of public concerts in London, and composed harpsichord suites and trio sonatas for performance at these events. In 1683, a group of amateur and professional musicians started a “Musical Society” to celebrate the Festival of St. Cecilia, “a great patroness of music,” on November 22. Purcell composed three odes for the Society. Upon his premature passing in 1695, “the English Orpheus” was buried adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey.

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