Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, 2nd Edition

004fe824_medium Author Ellen T. Harris
Isbn 0190271671
File size 25.3MB
Year 2017
Pages 272
Language English
File format PDF
Category Music

Book Description:

Ellen Harris' guidebook on Purcell's work, arguably the greatest English opera before Benjamin Britten's string of twentieth-century masterpieces, accomplishes a lot in not very many pages. She devotes the first part to the libretto by Nahum Tate, placing it within the context of his other works and Restoration drama in general, and also comparing it to its source, Virgil's Aeneid. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion she reaches is that, though Dido was given originally with an allegorical Prologue (for which the music is now lost), the nature of the opera itself means it is most likely not allegorical, contrary to the assertions of some other writers. This is followed by a discussion of the most important extant manuscript sources, including the one copy of the libretto from the first production in 1689, and the earliest and therefore most important copy of the music, the so-called Tenbury manuscript dating from much later, probably around 1775. (It is this source on which most of the best current editions are based.)

She then turns to the work itself, discussing its musical aspects such as Purcell's concern for symmetry and tonal unity, his skill at setting the English language, and his use of ground-bass techniques. Again, one notes the care with which the composer's work is set within its historical context and compared and contrasted with his contemporaries both in England and on the Continent. The final portion of the book comprises a history of Dido's performances and recordings since its composition, and the various alterations that were made in both text and music to suit contemporary taste, followed by a general return to a more authentic performance style in the later twentieth-century. The turning point was probably around 1950, with the appearance of an edition by Benjamin Britten and the work's revival with the great Kirsten Flagstad. In recent years good recordings of Dido and Aeneas have proliferated (I note a current one starring Susan Graham, for example) and the lack of an up-to-date discography is a drawback (Harris' book was published in 1987). However, that is the only feature lacking in this otherwise consistently informative, lucidly written volume.




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