(1659 - 1695)
English composer, who wrote with consummate skill music of virtually
every kind known during the Restoration. His compositions combined
elements of the French and Italian baroque and traditional English
Born in Westminster (now London), Purcell was the son of a court
musician and became a chorister in the Chapel Royal at the age of ten;
when his voice broke, he was apprenticed to the keeper of the royal
instruments and tuned the organ in Westminster Abbey. Purcell was
appointed composer for the court violins in 1677 upon the death of
Matthew Locke. Three years later he succeeded John Blow as abbey
organist. He became organist at the Chapel Royal in 1682 and was
appointed composer in ordinary to the King's Musick (1683), a major
post, under Charles II; later he was harpsichord player to James II.
Purcell also taught music to the aristocracy, wrote ceremonial odes and
anthems for royal events, and composed for the stage, church, and home.
He died in London on November 21, 1695, and was buried under the organ
in Westminster Abbey.
Purcell is most famous for his theatrical music. His only true opera is
Dido and Aeneas, a masterpiece based on a tragedy by Nahum Tate and
first performed in about 1689. Other dramatic works, although called
operas, are actually instrumental and vocal music written to accompany
such plays as Thomas Betterton's Dioclesian (1690); John Dryden's King
Arthur (1691); The Fairy Queen (1692), a masque adapted from
Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (1692); and Dryden and Sir Robert
Howard's The Indian Queen (1695; completed by Purcell's brother
Daniel), which contains some of Purcell's most famous music. Purcell
also wrote much fine sacred music, of which the anthem My Heart Is
Inditing (1685), performed at the coronation of James II. His many
songs and duets, both sacred and secular. His instrumental compositions
include fantasias and sonatas, mostly for strings, and keyboard works.