Purcell and his poets

Wood, B. (2015) Purcell and his poets. Early Music, 43 (2). pp. 225-231. DOI: 10.1093/em/cav006

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Unlike composers nowadays, Purcell often had no control over the words he was given to set�in particular those of royal odes. The poets who wrote these are often derided unfairly: their aim was not lofty poesy but something closer to the political cartoon. In addition to such works, Purcell set a bewildering range of poetic texts, whose quality varies widely�often creating from them musical patterns that the poets can hardly have imagined. Although he negotiated with Dryden for changes to the lyrics of King Arthur, this seems to have been an exceptional case; generally he took what he was given, though sometimes making minor verbal changes either for musical reasons or through reliance on faulty memory. On rare occasions, however, he deliberately misrepresented what a poet had written. Once, curiously, he inserted a few words of his own, directly describing his audience; once, through pressure of other work, he omitted the culminating two stanzas of a royal birthday ode, instead hurriedly rounding off his setting in an unsatisfactory and makeshift fashion; and twice he blunted the edge of a politically charged text by setting potentially offending and therefore dangerous words as inconspicuously as possible. A common feature of all his vocal writing is that its quality was never contingent on that of the text he was setting, and the very flatness of an uninspiring text could prompt him to compensate with purely musical inventiveness.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Research Publications
Departments: College of Arts and Humanities > School of Music
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2015 02:21
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2015 02:48
ISSN: 0306-1078
URI: http://e.bangor.ac.uk/id/eprint/4824
Identification Number: DOI: 10.1093/em/cav006
Publisher: Oxford University Press
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