Henry Purcell 1659-1695

File:Purcell portrait.jpg

This is getting very exciting, well, for me, anyway… I am reading about the life and works of Henry Purcell.  He was born into a musical family connected with the Court and at one time was apprenticed to the Keeper of the King’s Wind Instruments – which sounds like an excellent position.  He was organist at Westminster Abbey, organist of the Chapel Royal, a composer of both sacred and secular music,  including his great work Dido and Aeneas.  Although Purcell died at the young age of 35 or 36, his legacy and his gift to English music was, as they, say, awesome.

He seems to have been a well-loved man and one who loved the people around him: his will refers to ‘his loving wife’ – whether or not that was simply the convention of the time, it is a beautiful phrase.

Purcell and his works have had an extraordinary influence on English musical culture – go here (yes, it’s Wikipaedia) to read some of the people who have celebrated his work and claimed him as an influence, even unto the 21st century. And last night, listening to some celebration of the life of Benjamin Britten on the hundredth anniversary of Britten’s birth, I was delighted to hear how much of an influence Purcell was on the composer. Sometimes cultural appropriation is a good thing….

And, veering back towards Catholicism, here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem:

“The poet wishes well to the divine genius of Purcell and praises him that, whereas other musicians have given utterance to the moods of man’s mind, he has, beyond that, uttered in notes the very make and species of man as created both in him and in all men generally.”

Have, fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen, so dear
To me, so arch-especial a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell,
An age is now since passed, since parted; with the reversal
Of the outward sentence low lays him, listed to a heresy, here.

Not mood in him nor meaning, proud fire or sacred fear,
Or love or pity or all that sweet notes not his might nursle:
It is the forgèd feature finds me; it is the rehearsal
Of own, of abrupt self there so thrusts on, so throngs the ear.

Let him Oh! with his air of angels then lift me, lay me! only I’ll
Have an eye to the sakes of him, quaint moonmarks, to his pelted plumage under
Wings: so some great stormfowl, whenever he has walked his while

The thunder-purple seabeach plumèd purple-of-thunder,
If a wuthering of his palmy snow-pinions scatter a colossal smile
Off him, but meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder.

Possibly my favourite title is this: O, I’m sick of lifea setting of George Sandys’ paraphrase of Job.

O, I’m sick of life
O, I’m sick of life
O, I’m sick of life

Image rights here.

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