Double Trouble: Five Facts about Henry Purcell and Giacomo Carissimi

Henry Purcell

  1. A Musical Family – It was perhaps destined for Purcell to have a career in music due to all of his family also being musicians. His mother and father had close
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    connections to the Royal Court, and this gave Purcell and his siblings the chance to perform and compose music in front of members of the Royal Court on a regular basis. His musical education started at a young age; Purcell first performed for the Royal family at age 9, with an Ode he had composed for Charles II’s birthday.

  2. Organist at Westminster Abbey – As well as being a popular composer of his time, Purcell also pursued a career being an organist. At the age of 20, Purcell landed the prestigious job of organist at Westminster Abbey. Ten years after this appointment in 1689, Purcell played the organ for William and Mary’s coronation. Whilst in this position, Purcell was very popular with attendees of Westminster Abbey, and often the public would slip him cash tips to thank him for his services.
  3. Popularising Opera in Britain – Purcell was the first British composer to successfully bring opera to England. Others had tried in the past, but to little avail. Purcell’s ground-breaking 1689 opera, Dido and Aeneas came from humble beginnings, but ended up lighting the way for opera to become popularised in England. Now, the opera is often said to be one of the greatest English operas of all time.
  4. A multi-faceted composer – As well as carrying out his regular royal duties, Purcell also found the time to compose a menagerie of different works. His catalogue of music includes instrumental chamber works, operas, dramas, vocal music and choral music. His wide-range of compositions still makes him one of the most versatile and popular composers of the modern day, alongside other English composers such as Edward Elgar and Benjamin Britten.
  5. A suspicious end – There is no definitive proof of how Purcell died at the tender age of 35. Some reports say that he caught a chill outside after being locked out of his house by his wife. Others say that the composer had tuberculosis. Whatever the reason, Purcell has left a true lasting legacy that is standing the test of time. His body was laid to rest next to his organ at Westminster Abbey.
ETO 3Bill (Dido) - Sky Ingram, Dido CREDIT Richard Hubert Smith (4)
Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas (2018) CREDIT Richard Hubert Smith


Giacomo Carissimi

  1. Part of the Prestigious Roman School – As one of the most celebrated Italian Baroque composers, Carissimi was a notable figure in the Roman School. This collective of Italian composers worked in Rome in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods, with strong links to the Vatican. Working in this collective helped Carissimi define his musical style.

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  2. Influential Vocal Music – Carissimi is largely remembered for his work ondeveloping the Latin oratorio. Perhaps his most famous work to date is Jephte – one of the first classic Baroque oratorios. This paved the way for the fundamental structures of an oratorio which would be used for the next 300 years. Carissimi’s other famous oratorio, Jonas, was also a ground-breaking work that helped shape the way that oratorios were performed for many years to come.
  3. A Man of Development – As well as the oratorio, Carissimi was also well-known for developing recitative, cantata and madrigal forms. His exploration of the relationship between voices and chamber instruments changed the way that some European composers approached writing for these forces. Carissimi’s techniques reached England, with composers such as Handel applying them to his operatic works.
  4. Religious vs Secular – Nearer the end of Carissimi’s life, Baroque music began to change with its intentions. Instead of a large proportion of music being composed with religious intentions, the role of secular forms began to have a surge of popularity. Carissimi was very sure of his ways, as he was inspired by past composers such as Palestrina and Monteverdi, whose music was heavily religious. The span of Carissimi’s career saw him compose when both religious and secular forms began surging in popularity.
  5. A Large Output – Carissimi’s musical output was large, with 17 oratorios, 150 chamber cantatas, 200 motets, plus other liturgical works creating the basis of his output. There are also perhaps some lost instrumental works by Carissimi, however his music nearly always comprised of voice and chamber accompaniment. His legacy inspired other composers in Europe, and his teachings still live on today.
ETO 3Bill (Jonas) - Jorge Navarro-Colorado, Jonah; being lowered into the whale by the ensemble CREDIT Richard Hubert Smith (1) small
Carissimi’s Jonas (2018) CREDIT Richard Hubert Smith

English Touring Opera will be touring around the country with Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, Carissimi’s Jonas and Gesualdo’s I Will Not Speak (Io tacerò) this autumn. For more information or to book tickets visit:

© Alex Burns 2018

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