Donald Macleod explores the music and life of Henry Purcell.

Frustratingly little is known about the tragically abbreviated life of the composer who is arguably Britain’s greatest, Henry Purcell. Purcell kept no diary of his own – at least none has survived – and if he was active as a letter-writer, precious little of his correspondence has come down to us. Our evidence for the facts of the composer’s life appears in a sequence of glimpses – a portrait here, an anecdote there, unvarnished entries in the official records of the time. Donald begins with a whistle-stop trip through the scanty facts of the composer’s biography, and then looks at a single year, 1680, in which Purcell emerged as one of the greatest contrapuntists of his time. We hear about the pieces he wrote to mark specific events, from King Charles’ escape from shipwreck to the passing of Queen Mary. Next, an excursion round six key Purcellian venues, from pint-sized York Buildings to gargantuan Westminster Abbey. Finally, Donald tells stories of the relatively small but extraordinarily rich body of work Purcell wrote for intimate, domestic settings.
His smaller-scale work – catches, songs, keyboard and chamber music – is generally less well-known, but contains some absolute gems. In a sense, it’s the music that Purcell didn’t have to write.

Music featured:
Sound the trumpet (Come ye sons of art, Z323)
Chacony in G minor, Z730
I was glad, Z19
Now does the glorious day appear, Z332
The Indian Queen, Z630 (Act 3, extract)
Thou knowest, Lord, Z58c
Theodosius, Z606 (‘Hail to the myrtle shade’)
Fantazia IV in G minor, Z735
Fantazia V in B flat major, Z736
Theodosius, Z606 (Act 1, scene 1)
Fantazia VIII in D minor, Z739
Fantazia VI in F major, Z737
Welcome, vicegerent of the mighty king, Z340
Fantazia X in E minor, Z741
Fantazia XI in G major, Z742
March, Z860
Funeral Sentences (Man that is born of a woman, Z27 – In the midst of life, Z17 – Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, Z58b)
Welcome to all the pleasures, Z339
They that go down to the sea in ships, Z57
Of old, when heroes thought it base, Z333
Who can from joy refrain, Z342
The Fairy Queen, Z629 (Act 3)
Rejoice in the Lord alway, Z49 (Bell anthem)
Ye tuneful Muses, Z344
Hail, Bright Cecilia, Z328
My heart is inditing, Z30
The Fairy Queen, Z629 (Act 4, extract)
Since the Duke is return’d, Z271
Overture in G, Z770
Suite No 7 in D minor, Z668
Sonata No 7 in E minor, Z796 (Twelve Sonnata’s of III Parts)
O! Fair Cedaria, hide those eyes, Z402
I resolve against cringing and whining, Z386
I take no pleasure in the sun’s bright beams, Z388
She loves and she confesses too, Z413
Sonata No 6 in G minor, Z807
Tell me, some pitying angel, Z196
Fantasia upon one note, Z745

Presented by Donald Macleod
Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

For full tracklistings, including artist and recording details, and to listen to the pieces featured in full (for 30 days after broadcast) head to the series page for Henry Purcell

And you can delve into the A-Z of all the composers we’ve featured on Composer of the Week here:

from Composer of the Week