It is said that Purcell was composing music as early as the
age of nine. Despite, thorough scholarship, this claim has yet to be proven.
The earliest known work by Purcell dates from 1670. However, it was not until
around 1679 that Purcell began to compose his most important works. In the
early part of that year he composed music for Nathaniel Lee's Theodosius and
Thomas d'Urfey's Virtuous Wife. Some years later, he composed one of his
most well-known works—the opera Dido and Aeneas. Documented to have been
first performed in 1689, it is possible that it was composed much earlier.
Nevertheless, Dido and Aeneas was influential in the history of English
dramatic music and, alongside Blow's Venus and Adonis, is considered one
of the earliest examples of true English opera.
Though he at first focused mainly on the composition of
sacred music, Purcell eventually turned more towards the composition of theatre
music. In 1691, he composed King Arthur, often considered to be his
dramatic masterpiece, and The Fairy-Queen followed in 1692. In 1693, he
produced a setting of the Te Deum, the first in English to make use of
orchestral accompaniment. Purcell's Te Deum was regularly performed on
St. Cecilia's Day until 1712.
Unfortunately, Purcell died at the height of his creative
powers in 1695. However, in his relatively short lifetime, he produced a large
collection of sacred and secular music and became and influential composer of
the English Baroque period.
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