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HENRY PURCELL (1659-1695) HARK! THE ECHOING AIR From The Fairy Queen
Musical ability has often run in families. Take for example the articles about Bach and his sons which annotate at least 6 generations of Bach professional musicians many forgotten but 40 members of this musical dynasty are still remembered to this very day. Then there was Beethoven the prince of musicians; both his father and grandfather were professional musicians�3generations, and then the incomparable Mozart whose father and sister followed by his 2 sons were all musicians�3 generations. In England a London family the PURCELLS held prominent positions in the music of the Court and that of Westminster Abbey, and took an active part in musical life for 150 years�4 generations. Today people often speak of �Purcell� without realising that although they mean Henry, there was in fact a first generation Henry; but it is the younger Henry who was the most gifted and famous of this musical family.
The Fairy-Queen (Z.629) is a masque or semi-opera. It was first performed on May 2, 1692 at Queen�s Theatre, Dorset Garden in London. It was composed for the United Company of the Theatre Royal. The libretto comes from an anonymous adaptation of William Shakespeare�s comic play A Midsummer Night�s Dream. A possible author of the libretto is Thomas Betterton with whom Purcell worked on Dioclesian. Choreography for the various dances was provided by Josias Priest, who also worked on Dioclesian and King Arthur, and who was also associated with Dido and Aeneas. Purcell did not set any of Shakespeare's text to music; instead he created short masques in between acts of the play, similar to the Italian intermezzo. Some of Shakespeare's text was modernized so that its meaning would be clear to seventeenth century audiences. The masques are related to the play metaphorically, rather than literally; for instance, the "Masque of Hymen" precedes an affirmation of the wedding vows.