Henry Purcell 1659 - 1695
Purcell was a 17th century English composer and songwriter who died aged just 36 having lived his entire life in London.
He was born in the final year of the English Commonwealth - a turbulent period in British history of bloody civil wars which ended when England became a republic under Oliver Cromwell, after chopping off the king’s head (Charles I). By the following year, 1660, the republican experiment was all over - the English monarchy was restored.
During the Commonwealth period, tw
musicians and composers were out of a job (no King = no Royal patronage) and cathedral church music
But when the Crown was recreated for Charles II (the original Crown Jewels had been broken up, melted down and flogged off by Cromwell) London became Party Central, with musical theatre at the heart of a thriving entertainment business, and the Church could once again embrace music without fear of violent retribution.
Which was great news for Purcell.
Because by the time he had completed his musical education he was able to make a good living from song writing, musical theatre, Church music and, best of all, have a steady income from Royal Patronage - basically writing music for the Royal Court with no other purpose than praising and celebrating the glorious Monarch.
Now you would expect music where the public is spending its own cash to be good quality, but Royal Court patronage was essentially State money so perhaps Purcell needn’t have taken the same
Purcell was also a prolific composer of popular music, writing over 100 “pop songs”. But how could he make money from songs when there was no radio, TV or internet? Simple - Purcell published in the various bestselling songbooks, such as Choice Ayres (yes really ) which were regularly updated in new editions by the London-based music publisher, John Playford (who effectively held the monopoly on music publishing throughout England).
This is one of those songs written by Purcell around 1680:
If you listened carefully you’ll have noticed this song is written above what’s called a “ground bass” or “bass line” that repeats throughout the song. I’ll post more about this and other stuff later.