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" To the Memory of my Dear Friend Mr. Henry
Purcell," which concludes thus :

" Hail ! and for ever hail, Harmonious shade,
I lov'd thee living, and admire thee Dead.
Apollo's harp at once our souls did strike;
We learnt together, but not learnt alike :
Though equal care our Master might bestow,


Yet only Purcell e're shall equal Blow s

For thou by Heaven for wondrous things design'd

Left'st thy companion lagging far behind.

Sometimes a Hero in an age appears,

But once a Purcell in a Thousand Years."

It is clear that Purcell attained the highest pinnacle
in the estimation of his countrymen ; l but his fame
was not confined to England. I have seen a MS. volume
of music written by a contemporary musician, a native
of France, and in it he designates Purcell as M. Pourselle.
Eoger of Amsterdam engraved and printed a set of his
Sonatas ; and the following anecdote is told in some of
the biographies of Corelli :

"While Corelli flourished with such tclat at Rome,
Harry Purcell was famous in England, and Corelli was
so greatly affected with the character and abilities of
this famous English musician, that, as fame reports, he
declared him to be then the only thing worth seeing in
England. Accordingly the great opinion he held of
Purcell made him resolve to make a journey into this
kingdom on purpose to visit him," but the journey was
abandoned on hearing of Purcell's death.

Another version of the story makes Corelli start on
his journey, but hearing of Purcell's death on ship-
board, when nearing Dover, he returns immediately to

1 "The English affect more the Italian than the French music,
and their own compositions are between the gravity of the
first and the levity of the other. They h.ive had several
great masters of their own. Henry Purcell's works in that
kind are esteemed beyond Lully's everywhere, and they have
now a good many very eminent masters ; but the taste of the
town being at this day all Italian, it is a great discouragement
to them." Mackay's Journey Through England, 1722 3.


Purcell's secular music undoubtedly frequently suffered
from the worthless trash he had to accept as poetry ;
too often it was not only devoid of literary merit, but
still worse, indecent ; that was, however, the fault of the
age, and pervaded most of the dramatic literature then
in vogue. Even the well-known and estimable Dean
of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr. Aldrich, condescended to
set music to such words as shame would not permit us
to print at this day.

Tom D'Urfey was a notorious offender against good
taste, and for him Purcell composed very largely.

" Oh I who can view without a tear
Great Pindar's muse and D'Urfey near?
Whose soaring wit ne'er higher flew
Than to endite for Barthol'mew,
Setting, for sots at country fairs,
Dull saucy songs to Purcell's airs." 1

D'Urfey's verses were so uncouth and irregular in
their construction, that a writer of the last century said,
" The modern Pindaric Odes which are humorously
resembled to a comb with the teeth broken by frequent
use are nothing to them." D'Urfey wrote some
especially rugged lines which he challenged Purcell to
set to music ; the challenge was accepted and the com-
poser triumphed, but he confessed that it cost him more
trouble than the composition of a Te Deum. The ballad
in question was called " The Parson among the Peas,"
and was printed with Purcell's music in D'Urfey's
Pills to Purge Melancholy, 1719.

At the present day music has become such an exten-

1 Dr. King's Bibaotheca, 1712.


sively developed science, particularly as regards orches-
tration, that it is difficult to apprehend the state of
things which existed in Purcell's time ; but to estimate
his genius fairly we must recall the condition of the
musical artistic world in which he lived. In so far as
orchestration is concerned he had no models, nor had he
any instrumental performers to suggest or incite his
creative powers. Purcell was familiar with the family
of stringed instruments called viols, and although
Charles II. introduced violins from France, yet the
instrument was not regarded with favour by musicians or
by the people generally. Doubtless this arose from the
fact that there were no remarkable players. Anthony
Wood of Oxford, speaking of the year 1657, says :

" Gentlemen in private meetings, which A. W. fre-
quented, played three, four, and five parts with viols
as treble viol, tenor, counter-tenor and bass, with an
organ, virginal or harpsicon joined to them; and they
esteemed a violin to be an instrument only belonging to
a common fiddler, and could not endure that it should
come among them, for feare of making these meetings
to be vain and fiddling."

The first musician to introduce violin playing
proper was Thomas Baltzar, who played at Oxford in
1658, and A. W. " saw him run up his fingers to the
end of the finger-board of the violin, and run them
back insensibly, and all with great alacrity and very
good tune, which lie nor any one in England saw the
like before."

He also was the first to exhibit in England the
practice of shifting, or the whole shift on the violin,


and the half shift was not introduced until about
1714. Baltzar died in 1663, so that it is not probable
Purcell ever heard him play ; indeed it has been justly
remarked that the probability is he never heard a
great violinist. Corelli's works were not introduced
into England until after Purcell's death, and the only
violin music Purcell knew was that composed by

In 1773 Daines Barrington, a well-known writer,
speaks of the " Amazing improvements in execution
which both singers and players have arrived at within
the last fifty years. When Corelli's music was first
published, our ablest violinists conceived that it was
too difficult to be performed. It is now, however,
the first composition attempted by a scholar. Every
year now produces greater and greater prodigies on
other instruments in point of execution."

Wind instruments were equally wanting if we except
the trumpet, hautboy and bassoon, and only the former
could be said to have arrived at any excellence in per-
formance: there were no flutes, 1 clarinets, horns, or
trombones. It cannot therefore be expected that grand
orchestral effects will be found in Purcell's music, but
what we do discover is an amazing comprehension of
the precise sentiment and feeling required by the words
or by the situation ; harmonies which surprise us by
their beauty and boldness (many of them must have
been absolutely new when they were created by
Purcell), exquisite and refined melody, true rhythm,

1 The flute of Purcell's day was blown at the extreme end like
a flageolet, the modern fiauto traverse was unknown.


and just accent. And when we look at Purcell's purely
instrumental music, his sonatas, we find that as music
they are superior to Corelli containing more learning,
more ingenuity, and yet without any appearance of
labour or restraint ; but Corelli was a violinist, and in
that respect he had the advantage of Purcell, and knew
what passages were best adapted for the instruments for
which he wrote.

Of Purcell's contrapuntal skill it would be im-
possible to speak too highly ; he has left for our wonder
and admiration numerous canons constructed in all the
many and artful modes that species of composition is
capable of; the ingenuity and contrivance exhibited give
ample evidence of his diligence and laborious study, and
the highest praise of all is that in spite of the deep
learning of which they give evidence they move as
melodiously, and as freely, as if they were unfettered
by the stern and inflexible chains imposed by the
rules of the schools.

Purcell's weakness in accepting the prevailing taste
for endless " graces " and divisions has already been
adverted to. Another peculiarity which characterises his
music may possibly be accounted for by the statement
by Stafford Smith that "Mr. Purcell has been heard
to declare more than once, that the variety which
the minor key is capable of affording by the change of
sounds in the ascending and descending scales, induced
him so frequently to give it the preference." l Now-a-
days few composers would select the minor mode when

1 Stafford Smith's Collection of English Songs, 1779.


composing music to the joyful words of the " Gloria
Patri," or to the lines,

"In these delightful pleasant groves
Let us celebrate our happy loves. 1 '

Yet Purcell did so with perfect success, as his music

Very little has been said in the progress of this bio-
graphy of Purcell's anthems ; they are easily obtainable
in the fine edition published with so much enthusiasm
by Vincent Novello, and in themselves form a most
valuable material for study. It is to be hoped that
before many years have passed away equal facili-
ties will exist for gaining an intimate knowledge of
his chamber and dramatic music.

Purcell's seeming repugnance to the publication of
his own music is remarkable. After his death his
widow issued the following advertisement :

" All the excellent compositions ot Mr. Henry
Purcell, both vocal and instrumental, that have been
published, viz. :

" His First Book of Twelve Sonatas, in four parts.

"His Ayrs and Sonatas, newly printed in four

" The Opera of Diocletian.

" Te Deum and Jubilate in Score.

"A Choice Collection of Lessons, for the Harpsichord
or Spinett, with instructions for beginners.

' These six printed for Madam Purcell, and sold for
her by Henry Playford."

This list as already shown is not quite complete


Henry Purcell published an Ode for Cecilia's Day,
in 1684, and the Songs in the Fairy Queen, in 1692.
What a meagre selection from the catalogue of his
known works, which numbered nearly 150 sacred
compositions, and nearly 50 dramatic compilations, 28
odes, and a large number of other vocal and instru-
mental pieces which cannot be classed under either of
the foregoing heads.

Professor Taylor has eloquently said

" It would seem as if the view which Purcell had
obtained of the powers and resources of his art, and
his conviction of what it might hereafter accomplish,
had led him to regard all that he had produced but as
the efforts of a learner (and we are justified in this
conclusion from his own words), fitted to give a brief
and transient impulse to his art, and having accom-
plished this purpose, to be forgotten. It may be that
he was right : it may be that we stand, as he stood, but
at the threshold of music : it may be that in his ' clear
dream and solemn vision ' he saw further than his
successors : nor will it be denied, that some of its
recesses have been further explored by genuises and
talent like his own ; but all the great attributes which
belong to the true artist, all the requirements which
make the true musician, we may yet learn of Purcell."



IN the foregoing pages I have spoken of Purcell's
father and uncle, but made no mention of his ancestry.
Nothing absolutely certain is known of them. Various
surmises have been made from time to time, and as the
name of Purcel had been common in Ireland for some
centuries, 1 people have endeavoured to trace the com-
poser's family in that country, but no reason or evidence
has as yet been found for supposing that Purcell
inherited Celtic blood.

The national archives preserved at Somerset House
furnish material for speculation in this matter; the
following wills may very probably have been made by
some of the great composer's ancestors :

"Will proved 1547 8 (fo : 3 Populwell).
DAVJD FFSSHEK of Salopp Sherman
to my Kynsman Nicholas pursell
to John pursell of Marten, V 11 .
to George pursell, V u .
to Thomas purshell, Nicholas sonne, V 11 .
to Eoger Calcott of Buttington, Viij 8 ."

1 Purcell is named as one of the possessors of property in
a map of Ireland made about the middle of the seventeenth


Will proved 1547 (43 Alen.)

JOHN FYSSHER, gent n of Hen. VII., Hen. VIII., and
Edw. VI. chapels

' to my Cosyn, 1 John Pursell, XX' sterling, all my
londes in Clevedon and Clopton. . . . Countie of Somers
nye to Bristowe ; ' to brother David Fyssher of
Shrewsbury for life and after to Cosyn Nicholas
pursell and heirs for ever."

The parish registers of St. Margaret's, Westminster,
contain occasional mention of the name of Pursell or
Purcell, the earliest being 1575 ; but whether the
records before 1658 refer to members of the composer's
family it has not been possible to determine.

PurcelTs mother died in August, 1699, having sur-
vived her son nearly four years ; her burial is recorded in
the books of St. Margaret's, Westminster, thus : " Mrs.
Eliz th Pursell, Ch. 2 August 26, 1699;" her estate was
" administered to " on the 7th of the following Sep-
tember by her daughter Katherine, who had been
baptized in Westminster Abbey on the 13th of March,
1662. This younger sister of Purcell was married on
the 20th June, 1691, to the Eev. William Sale, of
Sheldwich, Kent.

Purcell had two brothers, Edward and Daniel : the
former was born in 1653. The story of his life is briefly
told in the inscription placed on his gravestone in the
chancel of Wytham Church, near Oxford :

" Here lyeth the body of Edward Purcell, eldest son
of Mr. Purcell, gentleman of the Koyal Chapel, and

1 Cosyn usually meant nephew.
Meaning buried in the Church.


brother to Mr. Henry Purcell so much renowned for his
skill in musick. He was gentleman usher to King
Charles the 2nd, and lieutenant in Col. Trelawney's
regiment of foot, in which for his many gallant actions
in the wars of Ireland and Flanders he was gradually
advanced to the honour of Lieutenant-colonel. He
assisted Sir George Rook in the taking of Gibraltar, and
the Prince of Hesse in the memorable defence of it.
He followed that Prince to Barcelona, was at the taking
of Mountjoy where that brave Prince was killed ; and
continued to signalize his courage in the siege and taking
of the city in the year 1705. He enjoyed the glory of
his great services till the much lamented death of his
late mistress, Queen Anne, when, decayed with age and
broken with misfortunes, he retired to the house of the
Right Hon. Montague, Earl of Abingdon, and died
June 20, 1717, aged 64."

Daniel Purcell was a younger brother of the great
composer ; the exact date of his birth is not known, but
it is believed to have been about 1660. Of his early
musical training nothing has been ascertained, he was
too young when his father died to have received any
instructions from him ; possibly in his boyhood he may
not have shown remarkable traits of musical ability ;
and in his more mature years his undoubted talent was
altogether over-shadowed by the superior genius of his
brother, to whom he was indebted for some part of the
practical and theoretical knowledge of music he possessed.
The first official appointment with which we can identify
him is that of organist of Magdalen College, Oxford,
to which he succeeded in 1686, soon after the ejectment
from that post of Dr. Benjamin Rogers, who with the
other fellows of the College was unjustly expelled by


James II. In 1693 Daniel Purcell composed music for
a " Saint Cecilia's Day Ode " written by Thomas Yalden,
which is believed to have been performed at Oxford.
He resigned his appointment at Magdalen College in
1695, in order that he might reside in London, and
in the following year, 1696, composed music for the
tragedy " Ibrahim XII.," written by Mary Fix ; also for
an opera called" Brutus of Alba, or Augusta's Triumph."
This was written by George Powell, the comedian, and
John Verbruggen ; it was performed at the theatre in
Dorset Gardens in the following year. The songs were
immediately published with a dedication " to P. Norton
and A. Henley, Esquires." In 1697, in conjunction
with Jeremiah Clarke, he composed music for Settle's
opera, " The New World in the Moon," and also for
D'Urfey's opera, "Cynthia and Endymion." In 1698
he composed songs for a tragedy, " Phaeton, or the Fatal
Divorce," written by Gildon, also an ode for the Princess
Anne's birthday, 1 and an ode for Saint Cecilia's Day,
written by Bishop. 2 In 1699, he was associated with
Jeremiah Clarke and Leveridge in composing music for
" The Island Princess," an opera by Motteux, and he
also composed music for a " Saint Cecilia Ode " written
by Addison for performance at Oxford. In 1700 he
composed the work which has generally been con-
sidered his greatest success, an opera entitled " The

1 The autograph score is in the British Museum,

2 "On Wednesday next will be performed at York Buildings
Mr. Daniel Purcell's mueick, made for last St. Cecilia's Feast,
for the benefit of Mr. Howel and Mr. Shore, with an addition of
new vocal and instrumental musick.'' London Gazette, December
29, 1698.


Grove, or Love's Paradise," written by J. Oldmixon,
and performed at Drury Lane. Daniel Purcell is said
to have designed and penned this music whilst staying
with his patron, Anthony Henley, of the Grange, in
Hampshire, or at the residence of Philip Norton, of
Southwick, in the same county, another of his patrons,
who was in the habit of entertaining his friends in the
summer time with dramatic representations.

On the 21st of March, 1699, 1 the following adver-
tisement appeared in the London Gazette:

" Several persons of quality, having for the encourage-
ment of musick advanced 200 guineas, to be distributed
in 4 prizes, the first of 100, the second of 50, the third of
30, and the fourth of 20 guineas, to such masters as
shall be adjudged to compose the best ; this is therefore
to give notice, that those who intend to put in for
the prizes are to repair to Jacob Tonson at Gray's-Inn
Gate, before Easter next day, where they may be further

The Earl of Halifax was the originator and one of
the principal contributors to the prize fund ; he was
also one of the adjudicators. The poem selected for
the composers to exercise their skill and fancy on
was "The Judgment of Paris," written by Congreve.
The first prize was won by John Weldon, 2 the second
by John Eccles, the third by Daniel Purcell, and the
fourth by Godfrey Finger.

The prize compositions of Daniel Purcell and Eccles
were speedily published, but Weldon's work remains in

1 1700 according to the new style.
J A pupil of Henry Purcell.


MS., as does also that by Finger, who was so annoyed
at the small success his composition achieved that he
left England in disgust.

In 1701 Daniel Purcell composed music for " The
Unhappy Penitent," a tragedy by Catherine Trotter ; in
1702 for " The Inconstant," a comedy by Farquhar. In
the Diverting Post, October 28th, 1704, we read

"The Play-house in the Hay-Market (the architect
being John Vanbrugh, Esq.), built by the subscription
money of most of our Nobility, is almost finish' d : in the
meantime two operas, translated from the Italian by good
Hands, are setting to musick, one by Mr. Daniel Purcel,
which is called ' Orlando Furioso,' and the other by
Mr. Clayton: both operas are to be perform' d by the
best artists, eminent both for Vocal and Instrumental
Musick, at the Opening of the House."

This composition was very highly commended in the
Muses Mercury, 1707, which speaks also in warm terms
of a masque set by Daniel Purcell called " Orpheus
and Euridice." In 1707 he composed a " Saint Cecilia
Ode," which was performed at Oxford in St. Mary's

An advertisement in the Spectator, No. 340, March
31, 1712, tells us

"On Wednesday the 3rd of April, at Stationers'
Hall, Mr. Daniel Purcell, brother of the memorable
Mr. Henry Purcell, will exhibit an entertainment of
Vocal and Instrumental Musick entirely new, and all
parts to be performed with the greatest excellence."

Amongst his compositions, printed and manuscript, not
already mentioned, are Anthems, Songs for the plays


" The Careless Husband," " The Humor of the Age,"
and " Magbeth." 1 " Sonatas or Solos for the violin with
a thorough bass for the harpsichord, or bass-violin."
" Sonatas for flute and bass," and " A Lamentation for
the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell."

The words of this " Lamentation " were written by
Nahum Tate, and conclude with the following lines :

" A sighing Wind, a munn'ring Rill,

Our Ears with doleful Accents till :

They are heard, and only they,

For sadly thus they seem to say,

The Joy, the Pride of Spring is Dead,

The Soul of Harmony is fled.

Pleasure's flown from Albion's Shore,

Wit and Mirth's bright Reign is o're,

Strephon and music are no more !
Since Nature thus pays Tribute to his Urn,
How should a sad, forsaken Brother mourn ! "

Daniel Purcell was appointed organist of St. Andrew,
Holborn, in 1713, and retained the position until his
death in 1717. Sir John Hawkins in his History, 2
says :

" The occasion of Daniel Purcell's coming to London
was as follows : Dr. Sacheverell, who had been a
friend of his brother Henry, having been presented
to the living of St. Andrew, Holborn, found an organ
in the church of Harris's building, which having never
been paid for, had from the time of its erection, in 1699,
been shut up. The Doctor upon his coming to the
living, by a collection from the parishioners, raised

1 " A Song sung by Mr. Mason in Magbeth, sett by Mr. D.
Purcell, ' Cease, gentle Swain,' in the Queen' s library, Buckingham

' 2 Vol. ii. p. 759, new Edition. Novello & Co.


money to pay for it ; but the title to the place of organist
was litigated, the right of election being in question
between the rector, the vestry, and the parish at large.
Nevertheless he invited Daniel Purcell to London, and
he accepted it ; but in February, 1717, the vestry,
which in that parish is a select one, thought proper to
elect Mr. Maurice Greene, afterwards Dr. Greene, in
preference to Purcell, who submitted to stand as a
candidate. In the year following Greene was made
organist of St. Paul's, and Daniel Purcell being then
dead, his nephew Edward was a candidate for the place ;
but it was conferred on Mr. John Isum, who died in
June, 1726."

That Hawkins has made a series of mistakes in the
above statement, is clear from the following advertise-
ment, which appeared in the Daily Courant, December
12, 1717:

" Whereas Edward Purcell, only son to the Famous
Mr. Henry Purcell, stands candidate for the Organist's
place of St. Andrew, Holborn, in the room of his uncle
Mr. Daniel Purcell, deceased, This is to give notice ;
that the place is to be decided by a general Poll of
Housekeepers of the said Parish, whom he humbly
hopes, notwithstanding the false and malicious reports
of his being a Papist, will be assistant to him in
obtaining the said place.

" N.B. The election will begin upon Tuesday the
17th, at nine in the morning, and continue till Friday
following, to four in the afternoon."

This shows that Daniel vacated his organistship by
death. Unfortunately the parish book which might tell
us the result of the election by the householders cannot


be found ; but it evidently was not permitted to be a
final decision, for on the 17th of the ensuing February,
1718, a Vestry was held, of which the following is a
minute : l

" The question being put whether the vestry should
take the election of an organist into their nomination,
it was agreed in the affirmative.

" The candidates were

MR. SHORT ....

ISHAM ....

YOUNG ....

GREEN .... //////


HAYDON . . .
HART ....

"Mr. Green is elected Organist of the Parish of
St. Andrew, Holborn."

The strokes show that Greene was elected by six
votes, seemingly the whole vestry, as no votes are
marked against the names of the other candidates.
Greene, however, soon resigned the appointment, and a
new election took place.

" 1718, 3 d of April, Mr. Green y* Organist being
elected Organist of St. Paul's and his place as Organist
of this Church being become vacant, the Vestry do
order his salary be continued to Sunday the 4th of
May. It is also ordered that such person who shall
be elected Organist of this Parish in the room of

1 Extracted from the Vestry books of St. Andrew's, Holborn.


Mr. Green, shall be obliged to a constant personall
attendance on all Sundays and Holydays.
" The several candidates

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Online LibraryWilliam Hayman CummingsPurcell → online text (page 7 of 9)