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.
The first movement of the Sonata in 4 parts for two
Violins, Bass Viol & Continuo No. 9 ("The Golden
Sonata") in F major (Z. 810) features constant
interplay between the treble and bass voices. It is
followed by an Adagio full of plangency, sighings, and
chromaticism. The F major Allegro that follows is very
fugal. Its theme is that of a trumpet fanfare in
character. Sometimes he pairs the upper two voices
together, and at times they dialogue in a rather joyous
contrapuntal texture. The Grave again is in minor, very
slow, and very somber. The final Allegro brings us back
to the dance. Its in triple time and filled with
running sixteenth note passages and rhythmic
One of the most important influences on the composition
of music in the late 1600's was the rise of the public
concert. After the Restoration John Banister began
renting halls and inviting the public, for the price of
one shilling, to hear their favorite performers. It was
an informal gathering of people who liked chamber
music. The audience could call out the tune or piece
that they wished to hear, and the performer would try
to oblige them. It was this type of public concert that
was in vogue when Purcell was a young man, and it was
at these that he heard the works of contemporary
composers and was exposed to contemporary forms.
The rise of the public concert as a viable commercial
enterprise ensured the rise of popular forms of music
such as the trio sonata. Purcell knew the works of such
composers as Vitali, Carissimi, and Monteverdi, and it
was after the style of the Bologna school of
instrumental music of Vitali and Cazzati that he
patterned his own trio sonatas. He called them the
"fam'd Italian masters" in his introduction which
stated that he wished to further their music.
Cazzati was essentially a conservative composer with an
intense interest in counterpoint. Vitali liked to
experiment within a contrapuntal framework. His chamber
sonatas were a group a dance movements. His church
sonatas, the type Purcell was emulating, had four or
five movements alternating between fast and slow tempi.
Vitali was a fine violinist, and his themes are
idiomatic for that instrument. His fugal or
contrapuntal texture is supported by his harmonic
motion; a system of chordal relations was beginning to
be utilized and regularized by the Bologna school. This
was the beginning of the high baroque.
Purcell's trio sonatas were published in a set of four
books by his widow Francis posthumously. The ten
treated here belong to the latest set of trio sonatas.
They are in the style of the "fam'd Italian masters" in
many respects. They are harmonically full of direction,
and show a command of the new tonal system. Many of the
melodies are Italianate and expansive; the string
writing is full and lush. They are beautiful works.
Much of the harmony is still typically Purcellian and
English in its treatment of dissonances, its
contrapuntal writing, and its attachment to modality.
But the flavor of Vitali's and Cazzati's writing comes
through quite strongly as well.
At this time the trio sonatas were accompanied by
harpsichord, the cello and harpsichord creating a duo,
and the two violins were treated somewhat as equal
voices. But there was a growing tension between a style
that wrote for the two violins together in a first and
second violin style in the manner of the classical
string quartet, and the treatment as them as two
independent polyphonic lines that could work separately
or as one. Purcell tends to be of the latter group, but
here and there in these pieces one finds him breaking
away to a more Italianate lyrical style and giving the
violins a quite "modern" treatment.
Although this piece was originally written for Violins
(2), Bass Viol & Continuo, I arranged it for String
Quintet (3 Violins, Viola & Cello).