Performers: Ingrid Seifert, Richard Gwilt (violins), Charles Medlam (bass viol), Richard Egarr (harpsichord, organ)
Instruments: violins - Jacobus Stainer (Absam, 1661 & c.1660); bass viol - Barak Norman (London, 1718); harpsichord - Joel Katzman (Amsterdam, 1992); organ - William Drake (Buckfastleigh, 1982)
Playing time: 71'
Recording date: March 1993
While Purcell was not as prolific in instrumental music as he was in other genres, he still wrote a goodly amount of it, and there are numerous recordings (as befitting a composer of his stature). I will try to treat this music as well as possible within the space of this web page.
The Twelve Sonatas of Three Parts (published in London in 1683) are Purcell's most highly regarded instrumental compositions. From our perspective, they are loosely regarded as Trio Sonatas in the mold of Corelli (although predating Corelli's publications), and indeed Purcell is considered second only to Corelli in his mastery of the early Trio Sonata form. Purcell's stated aim was to introduce more Italian elements into these sonatas (along with the word itself), and this is undoubtedly the way that contemporaries heard them. From our perspective, it is probably the English elements which are most interesting. It should not be forgotten that Purcell built upon a long-standing English tradition of chamber music (as exemplified by William Lawes), and indeed this is what gives the music much of its contrapuntal strength.
Following English practice, the bass parts in these sonatas are actually divided between specific lines for bass viol and continuo proper (in Corelli's case, there is only a generic continuo part below the two violin lines). This leads to some confusion in the posthumous publication of the Ten Sonatas in Four Parts, but these two publications use identical scoring -- it was only the nomenclature which changed. It is believed that the first two sonatas of the posthumous publication were written along with those of the 1683 publication and intended to form part of the cycle (omitted, apparently, because of their unusual keys and the desire to use the "magic number" of twelve). The other eight sonatas (of the Ten) are probably earlier compositions; at any rate, they show no new developments from the 1683 publication. A recording of these:
Among the other recordings, those by the Purcell Quartet are especially popular:
Other recordings of merit:
And a recording of these works played on recorders:
Finally, perhaps the earliest recording:
Moving on to the small keyboard output....
Purcell's organ music consists of a handful of short voluntaries (fugato style) of fine craftsmanship; a recording:
Purcell also wrote a not-insubstantial volume of harpsichord music. In this case, the inspiration was apparently French. The forms and ornaments are strongly derived from the French harpsichord school (rather than the equally impressive earlier English school), although the English influence still plays a role in the thematic development. The result is many short pieces (primarily dances), grouped in flexible suites. The result is unique, though not of tremendous depth. Two recordings:
There is also a new recording of recently discovered pieces:
Finally, to conclude Purcell's instrumental output, his viol fantasies are given a separate citation from the Baroque Overview.
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To FAQ CD index page.Todd M. McComb