Henry Purcell, born in 1659, was an English composer, perhaps the first truly world-class composer to come out of England. Unlike many composers, he found great renown during his lifetime, earning particularly the respect of Queen Mary, perhaps because many of his works were for voice and stage and thus more accessible than other classical works.

His works include one opera (The Fairy Queen, the story of Dido and Aeneas, supposedly written for a girl's school) and many shorter works for plays, dances, and informal events; several works for the harpsichord (he was an organist for several years in the Chapel Royal); various odes and other church music, and many secular works for one or two voices.

His best work in my opinion was Music on the Death of Queen Mary, a series of processions, anthems, laments, and a recession to honour his dear friend and beloved queen, who died in 1694. It starts with booming bass drums thundering and clear-toned trumpets sounding to wake the dead and begin the procession, and moves on to songs and pieces alternatingly joyous and mournful in gentle balance, and ends with a reprise in the recession. Oh, it is BEAUTIFUL! I'm not incredibly fond of his other works, but this one must be heard. Queen Mary's body was kept on ice for two months while this music was composed (and other arrangements made for such a high profile funeral, one supposes), and well worth it, I say. The music was played again at Purcell's own death only a year later in 1695.

rp: oh, c'mon. Ralph Vaughan Williams? Elgar? you just know more people have heard Pomp and Circumstance than The Fairy Queen.

Purcell's music is recommendable to amateur musicians because most of his work was written for them, and is not all that difficult to master. His harpsichord work is popular and very enjoyable beginners' material, especially the dances. His famous opera Dido and Aeneas, still performed today by the world's most outstanding vocalists, was written for a girl's school in Chelsea.

Purcell's emergence was a clear sign of Britain's slow recovery from Protestant puritanism, which had totally banned music except plainsong, culminating in Oliver Cromwell's fundamentalist rule, which ended the year before Purcell was born. It is more speaking of his talent that no British classical composer after him enjoys the same fame. But several before him (John Dunstable, and some of the English madrigalists) do.

yam: yes i was considering that, but note what a nice bunch of softlinks we have in this node now :)

Ironically, the work that became Purcell's best known was a variation and fugue of the Festival Rondeau he wrote for Aphra Behn's play Abdelazar (The Moor's Revenge) and is more closely connected to one of Britain's famous 20th century composers than Purcell.

In December 1945, the BBC commissioned Benjamin Britten to compose music for their documentary film Instruments of the Orchestra. The film was to be used as a teaching tool for children's music education, to give them exposure to the various instruments of the modern orchestra. It took Britten one day to decide which piece to use and two weeks for him to write the orchestration.

The piece premiered in October 1946, performed by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra for the film when it was released the following month. Along with Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals and Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf it is the most performed and most well-known piece of classical music for children today.

Officially it is subtitled "Variation and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell." Everyone, of course, knows it by its more well known name: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

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