Henry Purcell Biography

Henry Purcell was a great English music composer who worked for the Royal chapel and dedicated his life to create magical music compositions. Read this biography to learn about the profile, childhood, life and timeline of this famous musician.

Henry Purcell

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 10 September 1659
Died: 21 November 1695
Nationality: British
Sun Sign: Virgo
Siblings: Daniel Purcell
Education: Westminster School

Henry Purcell was a famous English composer who belonged to Baroque music of western music. He incorporated Italian and French composition styles and created a unique English legacy of English form of Baroque. He is one of the most famous English composers and was far above other composers in terms of reputation. He is revered as the most original and finest composer of his days. It was his fortune that he was able to make use of the golden period of music after the restoration of the Monarchy in England. Purcell’s father was a musician of the court and thus, for him, music was a gift by birth. He was a chorister at the Chapel Royal and continued to hold Royal appointments until his death. He had worked for three kings, over twenty-five years. Purcell, along with fulfilling his royal duties, devoted time for writing operas and incidental stage music. This talented musician had contributed to almost all department of music. Read on to know more about this music maestro.

Early Life

Henry Purcell was born in St Ann's Lane Old Pye Street, Westminster in 7th March 1659. His father (who was also names Henry Purcell) was a member of the Chapel Royal, a body of priests and singers and had sand in the coronation ceremony of King Charles II of England. Purcell had two siblings, Edward and Daniel. Daniel Purcell also became a famous composer. The Purcell family lived near to Westminster Abbey from 1695 onwards. Purcell lost his father in 1664 and he was placed under his uncle’s guardianship from thereon. Purcell’s uncle had a great affection for him and arranged an admission for Purcell in His Majesty’s chapel as a chorister. He was first placed under Captain Henry Cooke who was Master of Children and then under Pelham Humfrey. Purcell is said to have started composing at the age of nine and his early works include an ode he composed for the king’s birthday, in 1670. The three-part song “"Sweet tyranness, I now resign" was also one of his early compositions. Purcell was sent to the Westminster school and then procured the position of copyist in Westminster Abbey in 1676. In 1678 he composed the anthem “Lord, who can tell”, a psalm recited on Christmas and the morning prayer of the fourth day of the month. Purcell had written many anthems for Gostling’s voice, which consisted of two full octaves From the D below to the D above. The most notable anthem by him is “They that go down to the sea in ships”. This was composed ingratitude for the escape of King Charles II from a shipwreck. Gostling, who attended the royal party, requested Purcell to music the anthem which he had made by putting together some stanzas from Psalms.

Career And Success

Purcell devoted most of the time for composing sacred music. He produced two works for the stage as well – Music for Theodosius and Virtuous Wife. The first one was of Nathaniel Lee and the second one belonged to Thomas d’Urfey. Purcell composed music for seven plays between 1680 and 1688. He composed a chamber opera ‘Dido and Aeneas’ which became an important turning point in English dramatic music history. The Musical Antiquarian Society published the manuscript of this work in 1940.This was the first time that Purcell worked for a dramatic text. Purcell married in 1682 and was appointed as the organist of chapel Royal soon after that. He held this position simultaneous with his position in Westminster Abbey. His eldest son was born during this time but had a very short life. The next year in 1983, his first printed composition ‘Twelve Sonatas’ were published. The year 1985 witnessed two finest anthems of him – ‘I was glad” and “My heart inditing” (composed for the coronation ceremony of King James II. He composed a birthday ode titled “Come ye Sons of Art” for Queen Mary and this was considered the most elaborate and finest of all his works. This ode was written by Nahum Tate. Purcell wrote music for “King Arthur” in 1692 and this is considered as his dramatic masterpiece. The libretto of this work was contributed by Dryden. Purcell wrote scores for two Shakespearian drama inspired works – The Fairy-Queen (adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in 1692 and for the Dryden and Davenant’s version of ‘The Tempest’ in 1695. In 1694 Purcell wrote ‘Te Deum’ and ‘Jubilate Deo’ for Saint Cecilia’s day and this was the first English Te Deum composed with orchestra. This was played every year in St. Paul’s Cathedral till 1743, when it got replaced by Dettingen Te Deum by Handel. Purcell composed two elegies and an anthem for the funeral of Queen Mary II. He composed two comedies and five plays in 1693 and an ode for Duke of Gloucester for his sixth birthday.

Death

Purcell died on 21st November 1695, at his home in Westminster, when he was in the peak of his career. He was just 36 years old while he died. The cause of death is unclear. There are two versions – some believed that he caught a chilled after his wife locked him out for returning home late and the other version says that he died out of tuberculosis. He is entombed adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey and his music, which he composed for Queen Mary’s funeral was performed for his funeral as well. He was honored by burying with no expense in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Honors and Recognitions

Purcell’s contemporaries including John Blow wrote “An ode, on the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell”
Famous English Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a sonnet namely “Henry Purcell”.
Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel honored Purcell with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church.
A bronze to Purcell was erected in the Victoria Street, Westminster.
New editions of his works were published by Purcell Society, founded in 1876.
There is a Purcell Club which provides concerts and guided tours in support of Westminster Abbey.

Church Music

Magnificat
Nunc dimittis
Te Deum

Secular Vocal Music

Odes for the feast of St Cecilia
‘Music for a while’, (Oedipus)
‘Man is for a woman made’, (The Mock Marriage)

Instrumental Music

Sets of Fantasias for viols
Two sets of Tri sonatas

Timeline

1659: Henry Purcell was born in St Ann's Lane Old Pye Street, Westminster in 7th March.
1664: Purcell lost his father.
1670: Purcell composed an Ode for the king’s birthday.
1676: Purcell procured the position of copyist in Westminster Abbey.
1678: Purcell composed the anthem “Lore, who can tell”, a psalm which is recited on Christmas and the morning prayer of the fourth day of the month.
1682: Purcell married and received his first child. Also, he was appointed as the organist of chapel Royal, a position he maintained simultaneously with his position in Westminster Abbey.
1983: Purcell’s first printed composition ‘Twelve Sonatas’ were published.
1985: Purcell composed two finest anthems of him – ‘I was glad” and “My heart inditing” (composed for the coronation ceremony of King James II).
1692: Purcell wrote music for “King Arthur” which is considered as his dramatic masterpiece.
1695: Purcell died on 21st November at his home in Westminster, at the age of 36.

Citation Information

Article Title

Henry Purcell Biography

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Findbiographies.com Editors

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URL

https://www.findbiographies.com/henry-purcell-160.php

Last Updated

May 29, 2019

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