Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695)
A short biography of the great English composer Henry Purcell
Contributor: James Sanderson

Henry Purcell was born in London in 1659. He was either the son of Henry or Thomas Purcell, both court musicians. In 1667 he joined the choir of Chapel Royal.

Although born in 1659, the earliest significant works by Henry Purcell to survive are from 1680. We do know, however, that he was appointed composer to the king's violins in 1667, and by 1779 he was the organist at Westminster Abbey. Additionally, the mastery of the surviving composed works indicates extended years of dedicated practice. His church anthems, his music for the stage, as well as his songs and instrumental sonatas, suites, and fantasias all convey the perfected style of a clear, bright spirit, tempered by sorrowful beauty.

Henry Purcell lived during the period of the English Restoration, which began with the return of the monarchy in 1660, after the Civil War and Oliver Cromwell's Puritan rule. Art and literature flourished at this time, and the theatre particularly blossomed.

As a court composer, notably to Charles II, and as organist at Westminster Abbey and to the Chapel Royal, Purcell composed a large body of choral music for ceremonial occasions. He wrote a great many instrumental pieces, close to the prevailing styles in Italy and also France, where King Charles had lived for several years in exile. He produced even more music for the thriving Restoration theatre, working with such dramatists as John Dryden and William Congreve. And with Dido and Aeneas, he composed the first great English opera.

A prominent name in his own lifetime, Henry Purcell was subsequently overlooked. Today he is acknowledged as possibly the greatest English composer until the rise of Sir Edward Elgar at the end of the 19th century.

Purcell died on November 21, 1695, probably of pneumonia.

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