The development and contribution
However, Deadlocked was his only semi-opera to be published whilst he was living (published: 1691 This essay will explore the development and contribution he made to the operatic genre focusing especially on Dido and Names and King Arthur. Purcell contributed to the development of the operatic genre in many different ways: he built on the basis Blow had made by incorporating already established forms of dramatic music to use in a single work, such as English Masque and French and Italian opera.
One skill for which Purcell is best known was his talent for word setting; he used an array of word painting techniques incorporating the meaning of the text into the music. His use of Rhythmic gesture also ties in with his gift for word setting with his clear intent to demonstrate the meaning of the English text and to build climax. He built climactic points that encouraged audiences and listeners to feel a range of emotions for the characters and through the atmospheres he created, for this he also used the technical tool of ground bass.
His use of ground bass not only made opera in England more approachable by drawing from the already well established Italian tales but also
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Solo and choruses used the style of English air: tuneful, diatonic, in the major mode, with simple catchy rhythms. Cromwell had a huge influence on the arts as he banned stage plays, although he did need the ban and the general public returned to watching theatre performances and plays, so it’s no surprise that from around 1690 Purcell dedicated a lot of his time to composing works for the stage. Whilst Cromwell was in power Charles II was exiled to France, on his return to England there was a flux of French music which Purcell would have drawn inspiration from.
Purcell contributed to the development of the operatic genre by bringing together already established forms of dramatic music to use in a single work such as English Masque and French and Italian opera. Although Blow incorporated these styles in Venus and Adonis, Purcell seems to solidify this style with Dido and Names. The overall structure of Dido and Names seems to be taken directly from Venus and Adonis as they are both set to three acts. The French aspect Purcell brought to his opera and semi-operas was the use of overture and dance rhythms.
Previously, these traits were evident in the work of Jean- Baptists Lully (1632-1687). The scene structure consisting of solo singing and then full chorus leading into a dance was also typical of Lully. Dido and Names has a short overture, similar to the overtures first established by Lully. It starts with a slow adagio introduction swiftly followed by a repeated allegro section. Example 1 : Performance Marking: Adagio from Parcel’s Dido and Names, Overture, page 1, bar 1 (From Novella Vocal Score, 1966).
Example 2: Performance Marking: Quick from Parcel’s Dido and Names, Overture, page 2, bar 13 Arias were sparse in French opera and English masques, but along with ground bass Names is an example of an Aria over a chromatic ground bass. .. [W]here as BloWs opera is virtually SSI generic, dominated by more or less continuous arioso and choruses, Dido more closely resembles contemporary French ND Italian opera: the first in its preference for repeating units of artiste -chorus- dance, the second in its reliance on self-contained, modern-style arias.
Of the heroine’s two set pieces, one (ah Beeline’) is a written-out dad capo and the other (When I am laid in earth’) is a lament on a ground bass, a cliche of Venetian opera. (Curtis Price. ‘Henry Purcell’ In The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online) Purcell had a skill for word setting and word painting incorporating the meaning of the text into the music by the melody line and phrasing. To do this he sometimes altered the text.
In John Dryness (1631-1700) preface to King Arthur, staged in June 1691, Dryden had written that Purcell was ‘obliged to cramp my Verses’ to make them ‘harmonious to the Hearer’ (Margaret Laurie and Curtis Price. “Dryden, John. ” In Grove Music Online). The frost scene from King Arthur illustrates one technique of word painting Purcell used. Again drawing in from my first point, vibrato was commonly used in Italian opera and even Lully had used tremolo in Isis (1677). In fact The frost scene in King Arthur shows distinct similarities to that of Lully’s use of vibrato in the fourth act of his Isis’… Here the scene represents ‘lentoid lee plus gala De la Scythia’. 0. A. Western (1995) Master musicians Purcell) Here Purcell uses it to great effect. ‘Let me, let me, let me freeze again’ with sustained vibrato on freeze’ and ‘gain’ of again’. This gives the listener and/or audience the impression of shivering in the music, Purcell conveying the true sentiments of the text. Example 3: Word setting and word painting from Parcel’s King Arthur, Song (bass), What power art thou’, page 85 bars 57-60 (From Novella Vocal Score, 1972).
Purcell uses word painting in a melodic and rhythmic technique in Dido’s lament. For instance the dotted repeated top G of ‘Remember me’ which is the climax of the song. This communicates the shrill desperation of Dido in her last living moments. This aria is filled with word painting. The declamatory vocal lines demonstrate her sorrow and resignation to live. The trill on the forget’ gives the impression of a tremor showing that her weaknesses are unveiling themselves and she can no longer stay strong.
Example 4: Word setting and word painting from Parcel’s Dido and Names, Dido’s amend, When I am laid’, page 71 bars 22-26 Purcell made use of rhythmic gesture in the form of scotch snaps, inverting the order of dotted notes, making a catchy dotted rhythm. This enhances climactic moments because it suits the accentuation of the English language. This again relates back to my first point regarding drawing influences from other countries, as it can be compared to renaissance Italian works when it was then known as stile Lombard.
The sailors song from the start of act Ill in Dido and Names uses the rhythmic feature of a Scotch snap for the repetition of the words ‘no, never’. Example 5: Scotch snaps from Parcel’s Dido and Names, Sailors song, ‘come away, fellow sailors’, page 56 bars 60-63 (From Novella Vocal Score, 1966). ‘Ah! Beeline’ from Dido and Names is another instance where Scotch snaps and ordinary dotted rhythms are used, with obvious intent of expressing the text, as it suits the syllables of the libretto. Ground bass is prevalent in a lot of Parcel’s works; he uses it as an emotive effect and a structural device.
Ground bass had previously been widely used for laments in Italian opera. In Dido’s lament the predominant direction of the ground bass is onwards in motion. Example 6: Downward motion Ground Bass from Parcel’s Dido and Names, Dido’s lament, When I am laid’, page 72 bars 38-41 Dido and Names has three ground bass sections. Purcell used them as structural pillars; integral to the form of the opera, placed at the beginning, middle and end. These strategically placed ground bass sections help to define important key centers within the music (C minor, D minor and G minor).
Dido’s lament is in the last ground bass section in G minor, it uses a repeating ground bass pattern over which melodies ND different harmonies develop. In this the vocal and accompaniment, phrases rarely coincide in length with the bass pattern. The ground bass pattern is played eleven times, in which cadence points are overlapped by vocal melody or string Another way Purcell attempted to conceal the many repetitions of the ground bass, making it less monotonous was by inverting the melody of the ground bass as shown in examples 6 and 7.
Example 7: Ostentation from Parcel’s King Arthur, Piccalilli, page 115 bars 1-4 Example 8: Inverted ostentation from Parcel’s King Arthur, Piccalilli, page 116 bars 37-40 Despite the fact Purcell was not the first composer of English opera; he was a fundamental part in the resurgence of the operatic genre within England. He gave way for future composers to develop the genre even further. He created a new style of opera by integrating other countries already established styles into his only one true opera Dido and Names.
Although at the time Dido and Names may not have been received as greatly as some of his other works: Charles Gilson… In his Life of Mr.. Thomas Betterment (London 1710), p. 167 [did not even mention Dido and Names when praising the work of Purcell]… Let any Master compare Twice ten hundred Deities, the Music in the Frost Scene, several Parts of the Indian Queen, and twenty more Pieces of Henry Purcell, with all the Artiste’s, Decapods, Recitative’s of Camilla, Papyrus, Colloidal, &c. ND then Judge which excels. ‘… (Peter Holman, (1994) Oxford Studies of Composers: Henry Purcell) At the time opera wasn’t seen as an elite art form as it is now. Although Purcell did not directly influence a huge popularity in all sung opera immediately, he did increase the popularity of the operatic genre with his semi-operas and theatrical ores. Parcel’s use of word setting heightened the emotions in his operatic works by allowing the audience to connect more easily with text.
This not only made the operatic works clearer to understand but made it more accessible to people who would previously have preferred to watch a spoken play. Purcell advanced the use of musical techniques in his operatic works. His development of scotch snaps which he incorporated into a lot of his work, he discovered fitted perfectly with the stress of the the music. Purcell contributed to the development of ground bass, producing a round bass that didn’t get tiresome even when being consecutively repeated eleven times in a single lament.
He also inverted the ground bass to add yet more interest. Although Purcell did not employ any new techniques, the way in which he combined, solidified and developed existing techniques was innovative and doing so he developed the operatic genre. One technique Purcell will always be best known for is his word setting: It was Brown… Who wrote in a poem dedicated to Parcel’s memory: And surely none but you, with equal ease, Coded add to David, and make Dourly please, 0. A. Western (1995) Master Musicians Purcell)