Sunday, 30 September 2012

1690s Purcell and Pachelbel - the greatest hits truly begin

The 1690s is predominantly taken up by Henry Purcell and all of his music came in the first half of the decade because he was dead by the second. It seems he has slotted right into the place that Lully vacated after that composer had wacked his foot and accidently killed himself and Purcell's music is clearly greatly influenced  by Lully. As with Lully he composed lots of choral music and sing songs for operas and theatre. As with Lully I have completely ignored this to listen to the good bits which are the glorious instrumental interludes, usually involving trumpets. There are many excellent Purcell pieces but the stand outs for me are the trumpet voluntary from the Indian Queen z.630 the second Allegro from the trumpet sonata in D (it starts at 3.20 on this clip), the rondo from Abdelezar these three: CBC Vancouver Orchestra – The Married Beau, Z. 603, "The Curious Impertinent": HornpipeOrchester Le Phenix – Distress'd Innocence, Z. 577: VII. AireJohn Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Dioclesian Second Music

It's funny though because my favourite two are not actually by Purcell but in fact by a much lesser known English contemporary of Purcell called Jeremiah Clarke (1674-1707). They are  the Trumpet Voluntary for the Prince of Denmark  and the Trumpet Tune in D from the Island Princess (on which Purcell's younger brother Daniel worked and which is extremely similar to Purcell's trumpet voluntary from the Indian Queen - hence the confusion). That was like thinking 'I'm a believer' is your favourite Beatles song and finding out it's by the Monkees. Oh well, I can take a set back like that because  I still think Purcell was the best composer around at the time. These two extremely catchy Jeremiah Clarke trumpet tunes often end up on classical best of compilations incorrectly attributed to Purcell, so it's not just me that has been fooled.

The young Purcell was like a famous pop star of the time and top melody writer. He had been still a teenager when he was appointed court composer for the king's 24 violins in 1677. In some of his portraits there is a vague sort of resemblance to Paul McCartney....

......well I think so anyway.

Purcell's death in 1695 was even more tragic than Lully's when at the age of only about 36, in his creative prime, he came home from an after show party to find his wife had shut him out as she'd got fed up with him coming in late and he caught a chill from the cold and died. Either that or he just randomly caught tuberculosis or pneumonia somehow, it is not really known.

Of the other composers from the 1680s, in the 1690s I could not find much that was that good from Biber and Corelli was less prolific. His 4th Opus comes in 1694 and of the 12 sonatas my favourite is the allegro from sonata II which starts after 2 minutes on this clip  I sort of thought it was going to be all violins in the 1690s but actually Purcell's (and Jeremia Clarke's)  brass blows that all away. As well as that there was another Italian violin composer who was like Corelli but with a T for trumpets and his name was Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709). Corelli was the main man in Rome and Torelli was his equivalent composing in Bologna.  Absent in the 1680s posting because I could not find anything good from him in that decade, the 1690s saw Torelli  composing numerous trumpet concertos and some of them are much for violins. I have listened to all of these and the best are the Concerto Estienne Roger: Allegro and Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia G. 8: Allegro

As if this is not enough to make the point that the best music in the 1690s was being played on brass instruments we have Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) who composed the magnificent prelude to his Te Deum some time during this decade

Well now we've had Purcell's, I mean Jeremiah Clarke's trumpet voluntary but we are well and truly coming into 'classical greatest hits compilations' territory with one of the best known pieces of music ever composed. This was the Canon in D major by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), now sabotaged quite regularly by buskers everywhere. Well, to give the buskers their due, may be it is not sabotage but I just wish they would not all play this same piece all the time, it gets so annoying especially when the piece itself is just a few bars repeated (supposedly) 28 times.....mind you I expect it also gets the pennies dropping! It also happens to be in about 50 different pop and rock songs. Having said all of that I still think it's amazing. 

It is not certain when it was actually composed but I reckon 1690s is most likely for a couple of reasons. Firstly some believe it was composed for the wedding of J.C. Bach, the oldest brother of the great J.S. Bach in 1694. Secondly it's as if Corelli and Biber were groping towards it's immortal chord sequence but not quite finding it in the 1680s. Have a listen to Il Ruggiero – Sonata Duodecima by Corelli and Ars Antiqua Austria – Violin Sonata No. 3 in F major, C. 140: IV. Variatio by Biber which are favourites of mine from the 1680s to hear what I mean. Either that or they had heard it and were ripping it off like everyone else does! Apart from this Pachelbel mostly composed organ music which was probably not as good as his contemporary, Buxtehude, of whom I gave a mention in an earlier posting. He did compose some other music for stringed instruments which I might have included if it had come in say the 1660s when I could barely find any music I liked, but really now I am getting spoilt for choice of good tunes as we approach the 1700s and Pachelbel's other works have not made the cut for me. Pachelbel is what you might call a one hit wonder - but what a hit it is, even if it took until the latter part of the 20th century for people to realise.

Of all of these, and not withstanding the Jeremiah Clarke set back, Henry Purcell was without question the greatest of the time and almost all his great work came from a five year period at the start of this decade. Imagine how much more he could have composed if he had lived longer. I believe he will be sorely missed for music until we get to the work of a truly golden generation of composers which include Vivaldi who was just 17, and Handel and  J.S. Bach, who were 10 year olds when Purcell died. 

General History

The war of the League of Augsberg ended in defeat for France and victory for most of the rest of Europe in 1697. No other major events really.


Versailles provided the inspiration for many baroque country houses for aristocrats that continued to spring up around Europe. Here are a couple of good ones that were being built during this decade in England.

England1 144.jpg
 Chatsworth House, Derbyshire                                                Castle Howard, Yorkshire

Art, Literature and Technology

Ok I'll keep this short - there is not really much happening in art, literature or technology at this time.


Locke wrote 'Some Thoughts Concerning Education' in 1693.  In some ways this was like a sequel to 'Essay on human In Understanding'. In that he had said how the mind was like a blank slate and our only reality was what we experienced through the senses. In this new  bit of writing he explains how the mind should be educated, namely with an emphasis on understanding virtue and retaining health, rather than fact gathering.  He thought the best way was to install in children an enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge for themselves rather than actually teaching them the facts. This idea of thinking and reasoning for your self rather than just doing what you're told, blindly following tradition, makes Locke for many the first 'modern' thinker and a revolutionary. This mindset is closely linked with his friend Newton and his approach to the world of science.

So here are my selections for the greatest hitstory:


Christopher Hogwood – Purcell: Abdelazer - Rondeau
Orchester Le Phenix – Abdelazar Suite, Z. 570: VI. Second Act Tune: Aire
Orchester Le Phenix – Distress'd Innocence, Z. 577: VII. Aire
CBC Vancouver Orchestra – The Married Beau, Z. 603, "The Curious Impertinent": Hornpipe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Purcell : The Fairy Queen : Act 3 Dance for the Green Men
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Purcell : The Fairy Queen : Act 3 Hornpipe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Purcell : The Fairy Queen : Act 4 Symphony
John Eilot Gardiner – Purcell : The Indian Queen Z630 : Act 2 Allegro
John Eilot Gardiner – Purcell : The Indian Queen Z630 : Act 3 Air
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : The Tempest Z631/10 : Act 4 The sailor's dance
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Overture to The Masque
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Dioclesian Second Music
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Act 4 Fourth Act Tune
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Trumpet Sonata in D major Z850 : I Allegro
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Trumpet Sonata in D major Z850 : III Allegro
Olivier Baumont – Purcell : Harpsichord Suite No.1 in G major Z660 : I Prelude
Aradia Ensemble – The Indian Queen, Z. 630 : Trumpet Overture To 'The Indian Queen', Z. 630
The Scholars Baroque Ensemble – The Indian Queen, Z. 630 : Act III - Dance


Island Princess Trumpet Tune
Prince of Denmark Trumpet Voluntary 


Il Ruggiero – Sonata II
Il Ruggiero – Sonata III
Il Ruggiero – Sonata IV
Il Ruggiero – Sonata IX
Il Ruggiero – Sonata X
Il Ruggiero – Sonata X
Il Ruggiero – Sonata XII


Giuseppe Torelli – Concerto Estienne Roger: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia Avanti L' Opera G. 14: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia G. 4: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia Con Trombe G. 20: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia G. 8: Allegro


London Festival Orchestra – Te Deum


London Philharmonic Orchestra – Canon in D Major

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