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Happy Birthday Henry Purcell!

Happy Birthday Purcell!

Henry Purcell was born on this day in 1659 in Westminster, London, just a few hundred yards from Westminster Abbey.

He came from a fairly musical family – his uncle was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and sang at the coronation of King Charles II of England. Purcell himself became a chorister in the Chapel Royal until 1673, when he became an assistant to the organ-builder.

Purcell’s work was often linked with the English Royal family. In 1685 he wrote two anthems for the coronation of King James II, and in 1690 he composed a birthday ode for Queen Mary. (Later, he would compose several pieces which were performed at Queen Mary’s funeral).

In addition to his royal connections, Purcell was also connected with the theatre and composed many pieces to accompany plays. In the final six years of his life, Purcell wrote music for 42 plays.

Purcell died in 1695 at the age of only 36. After his death, Westminster officials voted unanimously that he should be buried with no expense spared in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey. He is buried here, next to the organ. The music he had composed for Queen Mary’s funeral was also played at his own.

Purcell is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers. No English composer approached his level of fame until the likes of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten in the 20th century. In Victoria Street, Westminster there stands a bronze monument to Purcell, which was erected in 1994.

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