Purcell in the 18th century: music for the 'Quality, Gentry, and others' - British Library Research Repository
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Purcell in the 18th century: music for the 'Quality, Gentry, and others'

6 April 2015


Henry Purcell was the only composer of his generation to be honoured with performances of his music at both the Academy of Ancient Music and Concerts of Ancient Music in the 18th century. Both organizations also programmed 18th-century music for The Tempest, believing it to be by Purcell. Excerpts from Purcell’s theatre works were performed at the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club too, where the Earl of Sandwich and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn introduced much of the Purcell repertory; Sandwich was also a key figure in the promotion of Purcell’s music at the Concerts of Ancient Music. Although the Academy of Ancient Music’s instrumental parts for King Arthur do not exhibit as many signs of modernization as do their manuscripts of Dido and Aeneas, some amendments to the musical text are found there, as well as in the Catch Club’s manuscripts of Purcell’s music. Purcell’s works were generally well received by the press, and newspaper reviews provide evidence of concerts of his music taking inspiration—and sometimes performers—from the Concerts of Ancient Music. The misattributed Tempest was seemingly one of the most popular ‘Purcell’ works with late 18th-century audiences; it entered the canon and remained there until Margaret Laurie made a conclusive case against its being by Purcell, and suggested John Weldon as the likely composer. Dr Laurie has also removed 18th-century accretions from the score of King Arthur, and we are at last seeing an end to the perpetuation of 18th-century tastes and prejudices in editions of Purcell’s music.


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