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Henry Purcell
(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 musical forms.

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.

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