Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Henry Purcell

Dr. Bob Prescribes Henry Purcell

When we think of Henry Purcell (1659-1695), if we think of him at all, what comes to mind are two of his operas – The Fairy’s Kiss and Dido and Aeneas – and perhaps a few well-worn songs.  You’ll pardon me the comparison, but this is like knowing Beethoven only through his first and second symphonies and few of his folksong arrangements. The comparison to Beethoven is apt.  Purcell was not just the greatest English composer of his time but arguably the most important and innovative composer living and working during the second half of the seventeenth century. Purcell’s contemporary, the English musician and Professor of Music at Cambridge University Thomas Tudway (circa 1650-1726), spoke for pretty much his entire musical community when he called Purcell: “The greatest genius we ever had.” That appraisal stood for well over two hundred years; the next English-born composer of (perhaps) equal stature to Purcell was Benjamin Britten, who was born in 1913 and died in 1976.   In his time, Purcell was referred to by his contemporaries as being as “our musical Shakespeare.”  (Observes our contemporary, the English harpsichordist and music director Trevor Pinnock: “Wherever Shakespeare went, pulling the whole English cultural bandwagon […]

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Music History Monday: Henry Purcell and British Music Restored!

We mark the death on November 21, 1695 – 327 years ago today – of the English composer and organist Henry Purcell, in London. He lies buried today in a place of singular honor, adjacent to the organ on which he performed in Westminster Abbey in London. He had been born there in London on (or about) September 10, 1659, making him only 36 years old when he died. But like both Mozart and Schubert after him, Purcell’s terribly premature death did not preclude him from writing a tremendous amount of music of the very highest quality. Purcell’s music – sacred and secular – utterly defined his time, a time known in British history as the Restoration. Timing I know that the realtors among us will tell us that in the end, everything is all about location, location, and location. Well, sorry to disagree but, in fact, in the end, nothing is more important than timing, timing, and timing. Hey: I love the city of Paris; it is my favorite urban location. But a successful visit to that magnificent location is dependent on timing. Had I chosen to visit in August 1348, I would have arrived simultaneously with the Black […]

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