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Henry Purcell’s Dido And Aeneas Essay

1242 words - 5 pages

In the dedication of Henry Purcell’s opera, Dioclesian, to the Duke of Somerset, he declared, "As Poetry is the harmony of Words, so Music is that of Notes; and as Poetry is a rise above Prose and Oratory, so is Music the exaltation of Poetry. Both of them may excel apart, but sure they are most excellent when they are joined, because nothing is then wanting to either of their perfections: for thus they appear like wit and beauty in the same person." Henry Purcell was a prolific English composer of Baroque opera, church music, cantatas, instrumental works, and more. Not only did he have a vast understanding of music and composition, but he also understood the obligation to form a connection between the music and the text. Purcell’s compositional ability is demonstrated in his opera Dido and Aeneas, which contains common Baroque characteristics that define his style. Even though he used distinct “Purcell-isms” in Dido and Aeneas, there is still a definite connection to the structure of Venus and Adonis by John Blow.
Although the original purpose of Dido and Aeneas may have been that of court entertainment, it has become one of Purcell’s most widely acclaimed operas, as well as one of the most popular operas of the Baroque period. The first known performance of Dido and Aeneas was held at Mount Josias Priest’s Boarding School in Chelsea, England in 1689. Scholars such as Bruce Wood and Andrew Pinnock have questioned whether this performance was truly the first, or if it was a repetition of an earlier court premiere, due to the fact that John Blow’s opera Venus and Adonis was written and then debuted in 1684, around the same time as Dido and Aeneas, and they seemed to follow the same path to their first performances. Blow’s work is strongly believed to have influenced Purcell’s work and Nahum Tate’s libretto, which lacks a date. Other scholars, such as Curtis Price, who have studied the progression Purcell’s style have determined that his opera is a later work that was not written until 1689, around the time of William and Mary of Orange’s coronation in April, due to the maturity of compositional quality. It makes sense that this would be the case, due to the fact that Dido and Aeneas is Purcell’s only through-composed opera. In his article, Dido and Aeneas: questions of style and evidence, Price explains that there are many melodic details that resemble each other in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Dido and Aeneas. Despite these connections, there are also many differences between the two works; for example, Venus and Adonis is considered a tragédie lyrique and is “virtually continuous” with “no set piece arias”, while Dido and Aeneas is an opera that “shows a full awareness of an important development in Venetian opera”; that is, that it is of a higher compositional and dramatic quality.
While much of the inspiration for Dido and Aeneas can be traced back to John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, there is also a dependence on the...

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