Henry Purcell is still considered one of the most influential classical composers more than 300 years after his death.
Henry Purcell is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers in the classical music world, and more than 300 years after his death, he is still considered to be one of the best British musicians.
Although there are no record of when he was actually born, it is thought that he was born at the end of 1658 or at the start of 1659, because he described himself as 24 in 1683. Memorial records in Westminster Abbey say he was in his 37th year when he died in November 1695.
Like many successful composers, music always played a key role in Henry’s childhood. His father worked as a musician for the court of Charles II in the 1660s. As a young boy, he became part of the Chapel Royal’s choir and, when his voice broke in 1673, took up the role of assistant to John Hingeston. His main duties were to tune and look after the organ and other instruments. Every now and then he was asked to copy music from other composers – giving him a solid foundation in musical education.
However, it wasn’t until 1677 that Henry got his first job as a professional composer for the king’s band of stringed instruments – the ‘Twenty-four Violins’. Within a couple of years, he took over from John Blow as organist for Westminster Abbey. Although he had a full-time job, this didn’t stifle his passion for writing and composing music outside of his paid work.
It was around this time that Henry married Frances Peters. The pair had at least six children, though only two survived into adulthood.
By 1680, he had a number of compositions, including anthems, songs and music for burial services. Henry had started to carve himself out as a key figure and talent in the classical music world and was frequently called on to write pieces for royal events.
Gentleman of the Chapel Royal was the title he was given in 1682, which was shortly followed by the publication of his first collection – Sonnata’s of III. His most famous work – Dido and Aeneas – was also written during this period.
However, when William and Mary were crowned in 1689, the demand for composers waned, leaving Henry with fewer opportunities to compose and perform.
Although he continued to work on composing odes, Purcell focused more on theatre and wrote a four large-scale operatic works between 1690 and 1695. However, he was still in high regard with the royal family and wrote court odes each year between 1689 and 1694 to mark Queen Mary’s birthday. He was also asked to compose pieces for her funeral in March 1695. This was just months before, at just 36 years old, Henry himself died on November 21st 1695.
How he died is unknown, some say he caught a chill after his wife locked him out of the house, while others think he had tuberculosis. Henry Purcell was buried adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey but his influences on music are still felt today and not just in classical music.
The Who member Pete Townshend has said that he is one of the Baroque composers who have had a direct influence on modern rock and roll – citing the band’s famous “Pinball Wizard” as a song that shows Purcell’s influence in the opening bars.
Henry Purcell is still considered one of the most influential classical composers more than 300 years after his death. Henry Purcell is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers in the classical music world, and more than 300…