Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695), was an English composer.
Although incorporating Italian and French stylistic
elements into his compositions, Purcell's legacy was a
uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally
considered to be one of the greatest English composers;
no other native-born English composer approached his
fame until Edward Elgar.
Dido and Aeneas (Z. 626) is an opera in a prologue
and three acts, written by the English Baroque composer
Henry Purcell with a libretto by Nahum Tate. The first
known performance was at Josias Priest's girls' school
in London no later than the summer of 1688. The story
is based on Book IV of Virgil's Aeneid. It recounts the
love of Dido, Queen of Carthage, for the Trojan hero
Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her. A
monumental work in Baroque opera, Dido and Aeneas is
remembered as one of Purcell's foremost theatrical
works. It was also Purcell's first opera, as well as
his only all-sung dramatic work. One of the earliest
English operas, it owes much to John Blow's Venus and
Adonis, both in structure and in overall effect.
The soprano aria "When I am laid in Earth" is the 37th
song from the opera (Z. 626/37) and is the most famous
excerpt from this work. It can be counted among the
finest moments in all of opera. Deserted by her lover,
Aeneas, Dido sings her final lament, knowing that she
must die without him. She sings first to her
handmaiden, Belinda, in a tender and affecting
recitative; the aria which follows is built on a
five-bar ground bass. Purcell's manipulation of this
compositional device, as well as his scrupulous
avoidance of sentimental indulgence accounts for the
scene's fame. Richard Wagner must surely have known of
this scene when he composed his own "Love-Death" in
Tristan und Isolde.
Although this piece was originally written for Operatic
String Orchestra, I arranged it for Woodwind Quintet
(Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn & Bassoon).