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Purcell, Henrylocked

  • Robert Thompson

Henry Purcell (1659–1695)

attrib. John Closterman, 1695?

Purcell, Henry (1659–1695), organist and composer, was born in London or Westminster, possibly on 10 September 1659, the third or fourth of six children of Henry Purcell (d. 1664), musician, and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1699), and perhaps a cousin of Daniel Purcell. No record survives of his baptism, and his year of birth is inferred from the ages given on his memorial tablet in Westminster Abbey and the frontispiece portrait of his Sonnata's of III Parts of 1683. Both memorial and portrait incorporate a coat of arms used in the seventeenth century by the Purcell family of Shropshire and Staffordshire, but any relationship must have been distant.

Henry Purcell the elder established himself as a leading musician in London during the Commonwealth, being named as a performer in the 1656 edition of William Davenant's musical drama The Siege of Rhodes. At the Restoration he became a gentleman of the Chapel Royal; on 16 February 1661 he was installed as a singing man and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey, moving into a house in the Great Almonry which had been occupied before the civil war by the singing man James Try. His daughter Katherine was baptized in the abbey in March 1662. He died on 11 August 1664, and the administration of his estate, which amounted to £32 3s., was granted to his widow, Elizabeth, in the court of the dean and chapter of Westminster on 7 October. A few months later she left the Great Almonry, perhaps for a house in Tothill Street in which she certainly lived from 1666 until 1680. Some part in the upbringing of her six children may have been played by their uncle Thomas Purcell (d. 1682), who held a number of musical and other appointments at court and was in a position to exercise influence on their behalf. A letter written by Thomas to the singer John Gostling in 1679 which refers to 'my sonne Henry' has led to speculation that the composer's parents were really Thomas and his wife, Katherine, though other evidence, such as Thomas Ford's manuscript history of music (c.1710) and the will of Purcell's godfather John Hingeston (d. 1683), unequivocally points towards the elder Henry and Elizabeth.

Musical training

At the age of eight or nine Purcell must have been admitted as a child of the Chapel Royal under Henry Cooke, who was master of the children until his death in 1672. Cooke's successor was Pelham Humfrey (1647–1674), and an early Purcell autograph, a score of Humfrey's 'By the waters of Babylon' with the string sections abbreviated and clumsily arranged for keyboard, may have been copied while Purcell was still a choirboy. On 10 June 1673 he was appointed unpaid assistant to John Hingeston, keeper of the 'regals, organs, virginals, flutes and recorders and all other kind of wind instruments whatsoever', to take up the salaried position when Hingeston died or retired. Warrants dated 17 December the same year provide for the issue of clothing and annual maintenance of £30 customary after a chorister's voice had broken (Ashbee, 1.126, 131–2).

The musicians named in early sources as Purcell's teachers, with whom he probably studied after he left the choir, are John Blow (1649–1708), master of the children from 1674, and Christopher Gibbons (1615–1676), son of the great Orlando Gibbons and a distinguished keyboard player and composer in his own right. Matthew Locke (d. 1677) is not known to have taught Purcell formally but was undoubtedly a significant influence: there is some evidence that Purcell inherited Locke's consort music scorebook (BL, Add. MS 17801) and 'What hope for us remains now he is gone', Purcell's elegy for Locke published in John Playford's Choice Ayres of 1679, is one of the most striking of his early works.

Early works, c.1675–1680

Purcell composed more music before 1680 than was once thought, and a number of surviving autographs date from the 1670s. Some instrumental bass parts (Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Osborn MS 515) include a movement entitled 'The Stairre Case Overture', featuring hurrying scale passages, which may have been inspired by Locke's famous 'Curtain Tune' for The Tempest (1674), and the earliest version of Purcell's funeral sentences (BL, Add. MS 30931, fol. 81v) may have been composed in 1674 for the interment of Pelham Humfrey in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. A payment at the abbey of £10 'To Mr Tucker for Coppying out some Musick bookes for the use of the Church' in the year ending at Michaelmas 1677 (WAM 33712, fol. 5v) almost certainly refers to the partbooks of Triforium set I, which include six Purcell anthems: a few notes of 'Let God arise' are corrected in Purcell's own hand (alto cantoris book, fol. 58v). In the mid-1670s Purcell seems to have been closely involved with the abbey, where his teacher Blow was organist, as he received a number of payments for tuning the organ and, in 1676, for writing out organ parts. About Michaelmas 1679 he took over from Blow, receiving an annual payment of £10, equivalent to that of a singing man, and an additional £8 for house rent.

On 10 September 1677 Purcell succeeded Matthew Locke in his first adult court appointment, that of 'composer in ordinary … for the violin' (Ashbee, 1.173). It is likely that this was simply a vacancy available on (or shortly after) Purcell's eighteenth birthday, and he does not seem to have had to write the music for the royal violin band which the post nominally required. Two incomplete violin suites which may have been composed for this purpose (BL, Add. MS 30930; BL, Royal Music MS 20.h.9; Yale University, Filmer MS 8) date from the early 1680s, after he had acquired other interests, and the theatre suites later published in A Collection of Ayres, Compos'd for the Theatre (1697) were in fact drawn from stage works written towards the end of his life. The main focus of Purcell's work in the late 1670s seems, instead, to have been sacred music in a variety of forms, including the elaborate symphony anthem for antiphonally spaced solo and chorus voices and a solo string group. By December 1677 three such anthems, which were performed in the king's presence, had been copied by William Tucker in the Chapel Royal bass partbook (BL, Add. MS 50860): one, 'My beloved spake', survives complete in autograph score (BL, Add. MS 30932, fol. 87) and is a highly accomplished work. Despite this achievement, however, Purcell drew back from the most prestigious forms of composition for the next two or three years, instead subjecting himself to a rigorous course of advanced musical study and carrying out some editorial tasks in the existing repertory of the Chapel Royal.

In September 1677 Purcell took possession of a major scorebook (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MU MS 88) from its previous custodian, John Blow, who had made beautiful calligraphic copies of symphony anthems by Pelham Humfrey and himself. At the reverse of the book Purcell now began to copy full and verse anthems without strings, not only by his contemporaries but also by earlier composers including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and Orlando Gibbons. He worked from separate partbooks, sometimes demonstrably the printed parts of John Barnard's First Book of Selected Church Musick (1641), and his objective was apparently to arrive at corrected, edited scores with regular barring and properly underlaid texts. Purcell later added some works of his own, extended the original series of symphony anthems with a few more works by Blow and Locke, and wrote on the reverse flyleaf the inscriptions 'God bless Mr Henry Purcell 1682' and 'September the 10th 1682', an entry which suggests this as a date for his birthday. Towards the end of the 1670s Purcell also composed most or all of the devotional partsongs (such as Jehova quam multi sunt hostes) found in his autograph score BL, Add. MS 30930; most of the extant partsong autographs are revisions of earlier versions transcribed by John Blow in Christ Church, Oxford, Mus. 628.

The sacred partsongs are vocal chamber music rather than anthems, and whereas Fitzwilliam MS 88 is essentially a document of Purcell's working life, Add. MS 30930 contains mainly music composed at least to some extent for his own interest or self-improvement. The most remarkable aspect of the latter manuscript is its inclusion of a series of fantasias for three to seven instruments, music in an old-fashioned polyphonic genre which Purcell re-created rather than slavishly imitated. Twelve four-part works bear dates showing that they were written in a short period over the summer of 1680, and most of the remaining fantasias are more or less contemporary. The two works in six or seven parts are In nomines, employing a slow-moving cantus fermus derived from a plainchant, and the five-part 'Fantazia upon One Note', as its title suggests, carries the same compositional principle to its logical extreme, the second tenor part consisting simply of a middle C breve repeated forty times. Add. MS 30930 also contains seven complete sonatas for two violins, bass, and organ: probably composed at different times between about 1677 and about 1685, they were eventually published by Purcell's widow in 1697. Like the sacred partsongs, the sonatas were substantially revised by Purcell and the surviving autograph does not necessarily represent their original version.

Later works for Charles II, 1680–1685

Although the next official change in Purcell's status at court, his appointment as an organist of the Chapel Royal, did not take place until 1682, he seems to have been accepted as a fully-fledged royal composer about the time of his twenty-first birthday in the late summer or autumn of 1680. In that year he wrote Welcome Vicegerent of the Mighty King, which was not only his own first royal ode but also the first of a series of ‘welcome songs’ to be performed on the king's return to Whitehall from his summer progress. The late summer or autumn welcome song appears to have been an innovation intended to provide a showcase for Purcell's talents without disadvantaging Blow and other senior composers, and Purcell provided one each year until 1687. A second indication of Purcell's changed status at court was his acquisition of the great scorebook (BL, Royal Music MS 20.h.8) in which he copied symphony anthems from one end and secular court music from the other, beginning with the 1681 welcome song, Swifter Isis Swifter Flow. Between 1680 and 1685 Purcell had few musical interests outside the court and Westminster Abbey: after his music for Nathaniel Lee's Theodosius, performed at the Dorset Garden Theatre in the first half of 1680, he wrote no more extended works for the public stage until 1690.

Some time in 1680 Purcell married Frances Peters (d. 1706), daughter of John Baptist Peters (d. 1675), a naturalized Flemish immigrant, and his wife, Amy. No record of the marriage or documentary evidence of Frances's maiden name exists, but members of the Peters family were closely involved with the Purcells in later years and on Purcell's memorial his own arms impale those used by the Peters family. Amy Peters appears to have kept a tavern in Thames Street in the City of London parish of All Hallows, and there can be little doubt that a child named Henry, son of Henry and Frances Purcell, baptized at All Hallows-the-Less on 9 July 1681 and buried there on 18 July, was the composer's son. Purcell's mother, Elizabeth, paid poor rates on the Tothill Street house only until midsummer 1680 and perhaps left on the marriage of Henry and Frances, with whom she may thereafter have lived. The years 1680 to 1682 form the first of two short periods in Purcell's adult life in which his place of residence is unknown. It would not have been unusual for Frances to return to her own mother's home in Thames Street for her first confinement, but Purcell could hardly have lived permanently so far from Whitehall. By Easter 1682 he had taken a house in Great St Ann's Lane, Westminster, where his son John Baptista, baptized on 9 August and buried on 17 October 1682, must have been born.

Further advancement in Purcell's career came on 14 July 1682 when he was admitted as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal to serve as one of the three organists in place of Edward Lowe. Close examination of his handwriting in one of his scorebooks (BL, Royal Music MS 20.h.8) suggests that several of the symphony anthems in it were composed fairly soon after this new appointment, and Purcell's new status was proudly announced in 1683 in his first major publication, Sonnata's of III parts … composed by Henry Purcell, composer in ordinary to his most sacred majesty, and organist of his Chappell Royall. The parts of the twelve trio sonatas were printed 'for the Author', at Purcell's own risk, and beautifully engraved by Thomas Cross rather than set in the moveable type normally employed for English music publications of this period. They were first available to subscribers from Purcell's house in Great St Ann's Lane and thereafter were sold by John Playford, John Carr, and Henry Rogers. Purcell's intention was to consolidate his reputation as a serious composer. Written, according to his introduction, in 'just imitation of the most fam'd Italian masters', the sonatas are related to the complex Italian instrumental music exemplified by the sonatas of Colista and Lonati and reveal a strong native influence in their harmony and counterpoint.

Earlier in 1683 Purcell had obtained a sacrament certificate, signed on 4 February 1683 by the minister and a churchwarden of St Margaret's, Westminster, and witnessed by two fellow musicians, Moses Snow and Robert Tanner. As Snow and Tanner received the sacrament on the same occasion, along with another court musician, John Goodwin, the certificate is more likely to represent fulfilment of the requirements of the 1673 Test Act—that all office-holders under the crown possess one—than to reflect any official suspicion about Purcell's Anglican conformity. He finally succeeded to the court post of instrument keeper after John Hingeston died in December 1683, and the following year his 1683 St Cecilia's day ode, Welcome to All the Pleasures, was published by John Playford. In the summer of 1684 Purcell became involved in a competition to select a new organ for the Temple Church, demonstrating the instrument built by Bernard Smith, the court 'organ maker'.

Despite the publication of the sonatas, and the performance and printing of Welcome to All the Pleasures, Purcell's creative life between 1680 and 1685 was essentially dedicated to the court of Charles II, providing anthems for the king's worship in the Chapel Royal, odes for formal occasions, and smaller-scale works for private entertainment in the royal apartments. Although a number of songs appeared in John Playford's publications during the early 1680s, none of the music composed for the court and copied in MS 20.h.8 was printed until after 1685, and the manuscript's contents suggest that, contrary to the impression given by Roger North, the king was an enlightened and sophisticated musical patron. It is possible that Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, performed in 1689 at Josias Priest's boarding-school for girls at Gorges House in Chelsea, also had its origins at court. Its immediate model, John Blow's Venus and Adonis, was certainly presented at Whitehall in the early 1680s and later revived at Priest's school, and Dido fits in well not only with Charles II's interests but also with a court tradition of masques and musical dramas which included, as well as Venus and Adonis, Crowne's masque Calisto of 1675 and Rochester's Valentinian of early 1684.

Charles II's death in February 1685 seems to have taken Purcell completely by surprise: he had apparently begun transcribing a group of anthems into MS 20.h.8, and had listed their titles in the table of contents, but left 'They that go down to the sea in ships' unfinished and did not copy the two following works. At the secular music end of MS 20.h.8 he wrote the solo song 'If pray'rs and tears', headed 'Sighs for our Late Sovereign King Charles the Second', and Fitzwilliam MS 88 contains the opening section of a full anthem, 'Hear my prayer O Lord', which appears from its handwriting to have been copied about 1685, much later than previously recognized. Quite possibly this powerful work is Purcell's funeral anthem for Charles II, for although according to John Evelyn the late king's burial was carried out quietly (Evelyn, 4.415), the London Gazette for 12–16 February 1685 states that the abbey choir was present. The winter of 1684–5 must have involved some disturbance in Purcell's family as well as his working life, as about the beginning of 1685 he moved from his house in Great St Ann's Lane to Bowling Alley East.

The court of James II, 1685–1688

The accession of the Catholic James II inevitably affected Purcell's musical career, though one change in his terms of employment must have been more apparent than real: James reorganized his private musick to form a properly-constituted baroque orchestra of string and wind instruments together with the vocal soloists required to perform a court ode, and Purcell is listed in this ensemble not as composer but as 'harpsicall' (Ashbee, 2.3). He retained his post as organist of the Chapel Royal, but the status of the Anglican chapel was diminished by the fact that the king and queen attended Catholic services and his function as instrument keeper appears for a time to have been forgotten. Early in 1688 he successfully petitioned for back payments and the restoration of his salary for this position, the Chapel Royal organ being then 'so out of repair that to cleanse, tune and put in good order will cost £40' (Ashbee, 8.275–6).

Purcell's treatment of his scorebook MS 20.h.8 suggests that he did not feel the same commitment to James II as he had to his brother Charles. He composed 'My heart is inditing' for the coronation of James II and Queen Mary of Modena on 23 April 1685 but thereafter no sacred music was added to MS 20.h.8 until about 1689, even though Purcell continued to write symphony anthems during this period. The fact that he did not transcribe the new works into his scorebook, or even complete the series of fair copies he was making at the time of Charles II's death, points to a conviction that a permanent repertory of Anglican symphony anthems was no longer required. Even the secular contents of MS 20.h.8 show signs of changing circumstances, the welcome songs for 1685 and 1686 being substantially in the hand of an assistant. Possibly this copyist was Purcell's pupil Robert Hodge from Exeter, about whose debts to local tradesmen he had to complain to the dean of Exeter in November 1686. The dedicated character of the Whitehall repertory began to be lost, and a number of songs and vocal ensembles from MS 20.h.8 appeared in print between 1685 and 1688. Purcell seems also to have accepted other kinds of work beyond the court, and on 30 September 1686 was one of a panel of experts who first examined a new organ built by Bernard Smith for the church of St Katharine Cree and then auditioned candidates for the post of organist.

Meanwhile, the years 1686 and 1687 were also difficult ones for the Purcell family. A son, Thomas, whose baptism is unrecorded, was buried at Westminster Abbey on 3 August 1686 and a second child named Henry, baptized at St Margaret's on 9 June 1687, died in September. However, on 30 May 1688 the Purcells' daughter Frances, the first of their children to survive to adulthood, was baptized at Westminster Abbey.

Revolution, 1688–1689

With the accession of William and Mary, Purcell's career as a composer primarily dedicated to the court ended. His appointments were perpetuated, and his birthday odes for Queen Mary include some of his finest works, but Whitehall itself was no longer to be the self-contained and cohesive centre of musical excellence it had been under Charles II. As early as 23 February 1689 the use of stringed instruments in the Chapel Royal was forbidden (Holman, 140 n.), and in 1691 it was again decreed that 'the King's Chapel shall be all the year through kept both morning and evening with solemn musick like a collegiate church' (Ashbee, 2.43). There was no prospect of the revival of the elaborate Anglican symphony anthem, although MS 20.h.8 contains evidence that for a time Purcell continued to hope that the chapel would be restored to its former glory. About 1689 an assistant, possibly the Temple Church organist Francis Pigott, added three new symphony anthems, but the third, 'Praise the Lord O my soul', was left incomplete, petering out as though the copyist realized it was never again likely to be performed with stringed instruments, and most of Purcell's late anthems exist only in versions accompanied by organ alone.

A misunderstanding over incidental proceeds from the coronation of William and Mary on 11 April 1689 may have caused some friction at Westminster Abbey, though its significance has almost certainly been exaggerated. The organist and choirmen were permitted to sell places for spectators to view the coronation from the organ loft or from scaffolds erected at the choir's own expense within the church, but on 25 March 1689 it had been decreed that all money raised in this way at the forthcoming coronation should be paid to the treasurer and redistributed by the dean and chapter. For some reason Purcell had not handed over his takings by 18 April and was peremptorily ordered to do so within two days on pain of dismissal. He complied promptly with the chapter's instruction, being allowed to deduct 'his poundage & other things' before passing on the sum of £78 4s. 6d., and in the distribution received £35, much more than the £24 received by the precentor, Stephen Crespion, and almost twice the sum of £18 paid to each of the minor canons. There is no evidence that this incident sullied Purcell's reputation or caused any lasting ill feeling between himself and his colleagues or superiors.

Quite apart from the coronation, 1689 appears to have been a very busy year for Purcell. He contributed several pieces to Playford's The Second Part of Musick's Hand-Maid, a collection of easy keyboard music of which he was also the editor, and the opera Dido and Aeneas was presented at Josias Priest's boarding-school for girls in Chelsea. Purcell composed two odes influenced by the up-to-date Italian style recently exemplified in From Harmony, from Heavenly Harmony, Draghi's ode for St Cecilia's day performed on 22 November 1687. Now Does the Glorious Day Appear (30 April 1689) was the first of a series of annual ‘birthday songs’ for Queen Mary which culminated in Come Ye Sons of Art Away of 1694, and Celestial Music (5 August) was written for Lewis Maidwell's progressive academy in King Street, Westminster. The year also saw the baptism at the abbey on 6 September of the second of Purcell's children to survive to adulthood, his son Edward.

Composer for the theatre, 1690–1695

After 1690 the public theatre assumed the place previously occupied by Whitehall at the centre of Purcell's creative life. Between 1690 and 1695 he contributed music to over forty theatrical works produced by the United Company, until 1695 the only company licensed to perform plays in London. Often the music consisted of a single song or a suite of incidental instrumental movements, but some plays, such as Oedipus, involved long and elaborate passages of music as part of the action. The ‘dramatic operas’ Dioclesian (1690), King Arthur (1691), The Fairy Queen (1692, revived 1693), and The Indian Queen (1695) consist of a succession of musical scenes linked together by dialogue spoken by actors who did not normally sing even though they might nominally be central characters. The annual sequence of dramatic operas was broken in 1694 by the first two parts of Thomas D'Urfey's trilogy The Comical History of Don Quixote, a less extravagant production with songs by Purcell and John Eccles.

Although Purcell was mainly concerned with theatre music in the last five years of his life, he had other important commitments. On 27 March 1690 the 'Yorkshire Feast Song', Of Old when Heroes Thought it Base, was presented at the annual festival of the Yorkshire Society in London at Merchant Taylors' Hall, in 1692 Purcell produced his second St Cecilia's day ode, Hail Bright Cecilia, and in 1693 he edited and contributed to a second book of Harmonia sacra issued by Henry Playford. In 1694 he revised the twelfth edition of John Playford's Introduction to the Skill of Music, the standard musical instruction book of the time, updating the section on composition, 'The art of descant'; on 20 July he was one of three Westminster Abbey officials who signed a contract with Bernard Smith for a major overhaul and extension of the abbey organ, and for the Cecilian celebrations in November he composed the Te Deum and Jubilate in D. Considering the number of major works he produced in this period together with his other activities it is little wonder that he did not manage to compile orderly fair-copy autographs of his theatre music and late odes comparable to the anthem scores in MS 20.h.8.

In addition Purcell had several pupils. In 1693 and 1694 his former Chapel Royal colleague John Walter, now master of the choristers at Eton College, sent the talented John Weldon to study with Purcell, and aristocratic female pupils included Annabella Howard, fourth wife of the elderly Sir Robert Howard, Sir Robert's granddaughter Diana, and Rhoda Cavendish. Two of Purcell's late autograph manuscripts, a keyboard book (BL, MS Mus.1) and the ‘Gresham’ songbook (Guildhall Library, London), seem to have been compiled for teaching or coaching, in the case of the Gresham book for an advanced performer rather than a young pupil, and are thus quite different in character from his archival volumes of earlier years. Other late autographs show that Purcell sometimes worked in great haste: the score of The Fairy Queen (Royal Academy of Music, MS 3) is largely the work of a very competent professional scribe but contains a few sections in Purcell's own hand, as though he did not finish composing them until the last minute.

The Westminster poor rate assessments suggest that in 1691 Purcell acquired a second property adjoining his house in Bowling Alley, but in 1692 and 1693 he disappears from the Westminster rate books, his name being replaced by ‘Ann Peters’. The highway rate for Christmas 1693 correctly identifies this householder as Amy Peters, Purcell's mother-in-law, and in 1694 the rates were paid by Frances's sister Amy Howlett. Purcell's absence is difficult to explain, as he still held his court offices and his post as organist of Westminster Abbey. Possibly he lived temporarily outside London in some location more convenient for the palaces of Hampton Court and Kensington, preferred by William and Mary, as well as for Windsor and Eton, or perhaps he wanted to move his family to a healthier location. At least one of the Bowling Alley houses was let to tenants, and when the Purcells returned to Westminster about Christmas 1693 they moved into a house in Marsham Street. Their youngest child, Mary-Peters, who does not appear to have been living when her mother made her will in 1706, was baptized at Westminster Abbey on 10 December 1693.

The beginning of 1695 was overshadowed by the death of Queen Mary from smallpox on 28 December 1694. For her state funeral on 5 March 1695 Purcell provided a march and canzona for ‘flat trumpets’, instruments with slides to permit them to play in minor keys, and an old-fashioned setting of one of the Anglican funeral sentences, 'Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts'. The service to be sung was that by Thomas Morley, used at the funeral of James I, from which this section had been found to be missing. After the period of mourning, however, Purcell's life seems to have proceeded normally. As well as The Indian Queen he wrote music for several other dramas, including Timon of Athens and Bonduca, and for 24 July 1695 he composed his last court ode, Who Can from Joy Refrain, for the sixth birthday of Princess Anne's son the duke of Gloucester.

In the London theatre 1695 was a year of upheaval. A group of experienced actors led by Thomas Betterton deserted the United Company to set up a rival theatre of their own and Purcell's The Indian Queen was therefore performed by the remnant of the company, 'for the most part Learners, Boys and Girls, a very unequal match for them who revolted' (Wells, 7). Fortunately the 'remnant' included Jemmy Bowen, Letitia Cross, and other talented singers, and a successful production apparently took place in the early summer of 1695. For subsequent revivals an 'Additional Act' for a concluding masque was provided by Daniel Purcell, 'Mr Henery Purcell being dead' (BL, Add. MS 31453, fol. 69).

'From rosy bowers', 'the last Song that Mr. Purcell Sett, it being in his Sickness' (Orpheus Britannicus, 1, 1698, 90), was Purcell's only contribution to the third part of D'Urfey's Don Quixote, performed in November 1695. The fact that Purcell wrote no more music for this production may indicate that he was unwell for some weeks before his death, but there is no evidence in his working life up to September 1695 to indicate a more protracted illness. 'Lovely Albina', 'The last Song Mr Henry Purcell set before his Sickness' (ibid., 133), alludes to the reconciliation of a quarrel between Princess Anne and King William, and cannot have been composed before William's return to London from the continent on 12 October 1695. The story referred to by Hawkins (Hawkins, 2.748) that Purcell caught a cold which suddenly turned to something much more serious is probably essentially correct, though Hawkins himself questions the further detail, lacking any independent corroboration, that Purcell was taken ill after Frances locked him out when he came home late and drunk from a tavern. Purcell seems not to have realized the seriousness of his condition until the day he died, on 21 November 1695 at his home in Marsham Street, when he made his will bequeathing all his possessions to his 'Loving Wife Frances Purcell'. The witnesses were his Marsham Street neighbour John Capelin, William Eeles, an apothecary from Bowling Alley who had perhaps been attending him, and his brother-in-law John Baptist Peters, whose signet ring was used to seal the will. Arrangements for the funeral, which took place in Westminster Abbey on the evening of 26 November, were described in that day's issue of the Flying Post: Purcell was to be buried near the organ without charge to his widow, the entire chapter attending along with the choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. According to the Post Boy of 28 November 1695 the funeral was conducted 'in a magnificent manner' and the composer Thomas Tudway states that Purcell's new setting of 'Thou knowest Lord' was performed with its accompaniment of 'flat Mournfull Trumpets' (BL, Harleian MS 7340, fol. 264v).

Posthumous events

Purcell died at the height of his powers, and his music was evidently in great demand. Frances Purcell herself published A Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinnet in 1696 and three works in 1697—the Ayres, Compos'd for the Theatre, Ten Sonata's in Four Parts, and the Te Deum & Jubilate for Voices and Instruments Made for St Caecelia's Day, 1694. The two books of Orpheus Britannicus, which contained songs and vocal ensembles by Purcell, including movements extracted from longer works, were issued in 1698 and 1702 by Henry Playford: further editions of books 1 and 2, with altered contents, were issued in 1706 and 1711 respectively, and a third edition of both books in 1721. Frances Purcell's dedication of book 1 of Orpheus Britannicus to Annabella, Lady Howard, discloses that Lady Howard was responsible for Purcell's monument in Westminster Abbey and for 'gracing it with an inscription which may perpetuate both the Marble and his Memory'. Some of the verses printed in the two volumes seem to pass beyond the conventional to express sincere affection, and surviving musical tributes include two outstanding works—John Blow's Mark how the Lark and Linnet Sing and Jeremiah Clarke's Come, Come Along for a Dance and a Song, in which celebration turns to despair at the news of the composer's death.

Frances Purcell left Marsham Street for a house in Dean's Yard, Westminster, at which address the third edition of A Choice Collection (1699) was advertised for sale, and in 1705 she moved to Richmond, where she died in February 1706. Her nuncupative will, witnessed by her sister Amy Howlett, Ann Eeles, probably the wife of William Eeles, the Bowling Alley apothecary, and Ann Pendleton, refers to an organ and two spinets left to her son Edward along with 'the books of music in general'. These certainly included the scorebook Royal Music MS 20.h.8, inscribed on the reverse flyleaf 'Anthems and Welcome Songs and other Songs all by my father'. Frances was buried near her husband in Westminster Abbey on 14 February 1706. Their son Edward (d. 1740) became organist of St Clement, Eastcheap, and St Margaret's, Westminster; his sister Frances, who administered her mother's will, married the writer Leonard Welstead and died in 1724 at the age of thirty-six.

Historical significance

Although Purcell was one of the greatest and most individual of English composers, his music was as much a product of the age in which he lived as of his nationality. He belonged to a vigorous but by no means insular English musical tradition and himself responded both to the French influence favoured by Charles II and to Italian music. His musical knowledge demonstrably extended from English polyphony of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries to contemporary Italian vocal and instrumental writing, and his works draw upon a wide variety of stylistic resources. He excelled in the setting of English words, in his last years coming close to establishing a form of music drama distinct from Italian opera and acceptable to English audiences.

Purcell has never been without admirers, but the exalted reputation he enjoyed in the two decades following his death did not last, and many mid-eighteenth-century musicians compared his works unfavourably to those of Corelli and Handel. His gradual recovery of the classical status earlier implied by Orpheus Britannicus began towards the end of the eighteenth century, and in the 1780s Benjamin Goodison unsuccessfully attempted to bring out a complete edition, a project finally carried out over many years by the Purcell Society, founded in 1876. By the mid-twentieth century Purcell's independent part-writing and sometimes astringent harmony had perhaps become more congenial to performers and listeners than they had been for more than 200 years. Developing interest in early music and historically informed performance of music and drama means that Purcell's work can again be judged in its proper context as the culmination of almost a century of baroque music in England rather than merely as part of the background to the international baroque style of the eighteenth century.


  • Westminster Abbey precentor's book, 1660–72, Westminster Abbey Archives, 61228A
  • Westminster Abbey rental, 1662, Westminster Abbey Archives, 44034
  • Westminster Abbey treasurers' books, 1660–94, Westminster Abbey Archives, 33694–33710, 33712–33728
  • Westminster Abbey chapter act book 5, 1683–1714
  • Westminster Abbey miscellaneous coronation documents, 1689, Westminster Abbey Archives, 51226, 51137
  • T. Ford, ‘An account of Musicians and their works’, Bodl. Oxf., MS Mus e 17
  • St Margaret's Westminster accounts of the overseers of the poor, 1656–90, City Westm. AC, E170–E202
  • St Margaret's Westminster poor rate assessments, 1684–96, City Westm. AC, E299–E311
  • St Margaret's Westminster highway rate assessments, 1666–95, City Westm. AC, E850–E875
  • St Margaret's Westminster poll tax, 1692, City Westm. AC, E2415
  • administration, prerogative court of the dean and chapter of Westminster, City Westm. AC [the elder Henry Purcell, act book 5, 1645–66, fol. 55; Elizabeth Purcell, act book 8, 1687/1688–99, fol. 93]
  • Purcell's will, TNA: PRO, PROB 1/8
  • PROB 11/429, fol. 317 [register copy]
  • TNA: PRO, PROB 11/489, fol. 157 [Frances Purcell]
  • TNA: PRO, PROB 11/375, fols. 134–5 [John Hingeston]
  • F. B. Zimmerman, Henry Purcell, 1659–1695: an analytical catalogue of his music (1963)
  • The works of Henry Purcell, 32 vols. (1878–1965)
  • P. Holman, Henry Purcell (1994)
  • M. Duffy, Henry Purcell (1994)
  • A. Ashbee, ed., Records of English court music, 9 vols. (1986–96), vols. 1–2, 5, 8
  • R. Shay and R. Thompson, Purcell manuscripts: the principal musical sources (2000)
  • R. Luckett, ‘“Or rather our musical Shakespeare”: Charles Burney's Purcell’, Music in eighteenth-century England: essays in honour of Charles Cudworth, ed. C. Hogwood and R. Luckett (1983), 59–77
  • P. A. Scholes, The Oxford companion to music, ed. J. O. Ward, 10th edn (1970)
  • M. Tilmouth, ‘A calendar of references to music in newspapers published in London and the provinces (1660–1719) [pt 1]’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 1 (1961), 1–107
  • M. Tilmouth, ‘A calendar of references to music in newspapers published in London and the provinces (1660–1719) [pt 2]’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 2 (1962), 2–15
  • B. Wood and A. Pinnock, ‘“Unscarr'd by turning times”? The dating of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas’, Early Music, 20 (1992), 372–90
  • B. Wood, ‘The first performance of Purcell's funeral music for Queen Mary’, Performing the music of Henry Purcell [Oxford 1993], ed. M. Burden (1996), 61–81
  • N. Luttrell, A brief historical relation of state affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols. (1857)
  • A. Browning, ‘Purcell's Stairre case overture’, MT, 121 (1980), 768–9
  • S. B. Wells, ed., A comparison between the two stages: a late Restoration book of the theatre (1942)


  • Exeter Cathedral, dean and chapter library, letter, MS 6077/1


  • J. Closterman, chalk drawing, 1695, NPG [see illus.]
  • after J. Closterman, oils, 1695, NPG
  • attrib. J. Closterman, oils, 1695, NPG
  • T. Cross junior, line engraving (aged 23), BM, NPG; repro. in H. Purcell, Sonnatas of III parts (1683), frontispiece
  • R. White, line engraving (after painting by or after J. B. Closterman, 1695), BM, NPG; repro. in H. Purcell, Orpheus Britannicus (1698)
  • G. Zobel, mezzotint (after J. B. Closterman), BM, NPG
  • charcoal sketch, BM
  • oils, NPG
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
Bodleian Library, Oxford
Musical Times
J. Evelyn, ed. E. S. De Beer, 6 vols. (1955); repr. (2000)
City of Westminster Archives Centre, London