Henry Purcell

Five leading composers - George Benjamin, Elliott Carter, Oliver Knussen, Steve Martland, Colin Matthews - discuss the continuing influence of Henry Purcell in a feature for the Guardian UK.

Columnist Tom Service sets the stage:

England knew what it had lost when Henry Purcell died aged 36 years on 21 November 1695. His funeral at Westminster Abbey, where he worked for 16 years as organist, was on the grandest scale, a composer colleague described him as "the greatest genius we ever had", and a collection of his songs published shortly after his death was called "Orpheus Britannicus" - the British Orpheus.

In his vocal music, Purcell set the English language with a sensitivity no one had matched before or since (only Britten, who loved Purcell's music, has come close). In his instrumental music, Purcell gave the arcane form of the Fantasia its final flourish, but as a true modern, he was among the first to exploit the possibilities of orchestral colour. He mixed influences from ancient counterpoint to the latest French dances and Italian vocal acrobatics, and yet the result is always pure Purcell.

That's why he still inspires composers today, and why musicians from Elliott Carter to Colin Matthews have turned to his music as a creative catalyst: if you can fuse flawless technique with poetic expression like Purcell did, you're doing something right.

The full discussion appears at the publication's web site.


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