Henry Purcell – 8 Harpsichord Suites – 2 Organ Voluntaries (1979 – 1986)

FrontCover1.jpgAs England’s greatest composer of the Baroque, Henry Purcell was dubbed the “Orpheus Britannicus” for his ability to combine pungent English counterpoint with expressive, flexible, and dramatic word settings. While he did write instrumental music, including the important viol fantasias, the vast majority of his output was in the vocal/choral realm. His only opera, Dido and Aeneas, divulged his sheer mastery in the handling of the work’s vast expressive canvas, which included lively dance numbers, passionate arias and rollicking choruses. Purcell also wrote much incidental music for stage productions, including that for Dryden’s King Arthur. His church music includes many anthems, devotional songs, and other sacred works, but few items for Anglican services.

Purcell was born in 1659 to Henry Purcell, master of choristers at Westminster Abbey, and his wife Elizabeth. When he was five, his father died, forcing his mother to resettle the family of six children into a more modest house and lifestyle. In about 1668, Purcell became a chorister in the Chapel Royal, studying under chorus master Henry Cooke. He also took keyboard lessons from Christopher Gibbons, son of the composer Orlando Gibbons, and it is likely that he studied with John Blow and Matthew Locke. In 1673, Purcell was appointed assistant to John Hingeston, the royal instrument keeper.


On September 10, 1677, Purcell was given the Court position of composer-in-ordinary for the violins. It is believed that many of his church works date from this time. Purcell, a great keyboard virtuoso by his late teens, received a second important post in 1679, this one succeeding Blow as organist at Westminster Abbey, a position he would retain all his life. That same year saw the publication of five of the young composer’s songs in John Playford’s Choice Ayres and Songs to Sing to the Theorbo-lute or Bass-viol. Around the same time, he began writing anthems with string accompaniment, completing over a dozen before 1685, and welcome songs. Purcell was appointed one of three organists at the Chapel Royal in the summer of 1682, his most prestigious post yet.

Purcell composed his first ode for St. Cecilia’s Day in 1683. The following month, upon Hingeston’s death, he was named royal instrument keeper while retaining his other posts. The composer remained quite prolific in the middle part of the decade, primarily producing music for royal occasions. In 1685 the new King, James II, introduced many changes at Court, one of which was to make Purcell the Court harpsichordist and Blow the Court composer. Near the end of 1687, Queen Mary’s pregnancy was announced and Purcell was commissioned to compose an anthem for Psalm 128, Blessed are they that fear the Lord. Many other of his anthems appeared in 1688, as did one of his more famous ones for church use, O sing unto the Lord.


With the ascension of William and Mary to the throne on April 11, 1689, Purcell retained his post as royal instrument keeper, and he, along with Blow and Alexander Damazene, shared the duties of Court composers. With his royal duties reduced, he was able to pursue other opportunities, including teaching and writing for other organizations. One of Purcell’s greatest successes came in 1689 with the production of Dido and Aeneas. He then collaborated with John Dryden on King Arthur in 1691, and also composed the music for The Fairy-Queen (1692), based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream both productions also scoring triumphs. In the final year of his life Purcell remained exceedingly busy, writing much for the stage, including The Indian Queen, left incomplete at his death on November 21, 1695. (by Robert Cummings)

About Colin Tilney:

Colin Tilney is an English early music keyboard player, an unusually active survivor of the first generation of musicians who brought the idea of historically informed performance to the general concertgoer’s consciousness. Tilney’s repertoire stretches from the sixteenth century to the late eighteenth, and he has played the fortepiano, the virginal, and even an occasional continuo organ in addition to his main instrument, the harpsichord. Further, he has often attempted to match specific instruments with appropriate repertoire. Born in London, Tilney studied music and languages at Cambridge and then sought out harpsichord lessons with several teachers, Gustav Leonhardt among them. He began performing and recording, at first mostly in ensembles devoted to English music, in the early 1960s. His U.S. debut came in 1971. From 1979, Tilney taught at the University of Toronto and at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, during which time he edited several printed collections of specialized Baroque repertoire, including The Art of the Unmeasured Prelude (1991).


He has made an acclaimed recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and has recorded the complete keyboard works of Matthew Locke. A good example of Tilney’s work on disc is the 1996 album Scarlatti High and Low, which presented Domenico Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas that lay at the extremes of the instrument’s range. Here and elsewhere, Tilney not only presents unusual music engagingly, but also embodies expertise on the historical development of keyboard instruments. His interests also extend to contemporary music, and he has commissioned works for harpsichord from various Canadian composers and from the British quasi-serialist Elisabeth Lutyens. In 2002, Tilney relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, where he teaches as an adjunct professor of harpsichord performance at the University of Victoria and serves as the resident harpsichordist for the Victoria Symphony. (by itunes)

And here´s another masterpiece of Henry Purcell … listen to the delicious sound of the spinet played by Colin Tilney, original recorded in 1979.


Original frontcover from 1979

As a bonus two organ compositions by Henry Purcell, performed by the great Simon Preston.


Colin Tilney (spinet)
Simon Preston (organ on 31. + 32.)



Suite No.I in G major:
01. Prelude 0.28
02. Almand 0.57
03. Corant 1.05
04. Minuet 0.53

Suite No.2 in G minor, Z661:
05. Prelude 1.21
06. Allemande 4.04
07. Courante 1.49
08. Sarabande 1.38

Suite No.III in G major:
09. Prelude 1.18
10. Allemande 2.55
11. Courante 1.54

Suite No.4 in A minor, Z663:
12. Prelude 0.51
13. Allemande 2.32
14. Courante 1.37
15. Sarabande 1.14

Suite No.5 in C, Z666:
16. Prelude 1.15
17. Allemande 2.10
18. Courante 1.02
19. Sarabande 1.03
20. Jigg 1.04

Suite No.VI in D major:
21. Prelude 0.40
22.Allemande 2.54
23. Hornpipe 1.17

Suite No.7 in D minor, Z668:
24. Allemande 3.49
25.Courante 1.42

26.Hornpipe (from “The Married Beau”, Z603/3 0.49

Suite No.VIII in F major:
27. Prelude 0.51
28. Allemande 2.41
29. Courante 2.04
30. Minuet 0.49

31. Voluntary in G 2.43
32. Voluntary for Double Organ, Z719 5.10



Simon Preston

Simon John Preston CBE (born 4 August 1938, Bournemouth) is an English organist, conductor, and composer.

He attended Canford School in Wimborne in Dorset. Originally a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, he approached Boris Ord for organ lessons, but was referred to Hugh McLean. Preston then studied the organ with C. H. Trevor before returning to King’s as organ scholar.

He was sub-organist of Westminster Abbey from 1962-7, and organist of Christ Church, Oxford from 1970 before returning to Westminster as Organist and Master of the Choristers in 1981. He relinquished his Westminster post in 1987, and has since led an international concert career, and has also composed works for the organ, the best-known of which is probably his Alleluyas, written in the style of Olivier Messiaen.

In 1965, for the Edington Music Festival, he commissioned Psalm 119 verses 73-104 and in 1966 a set of 5 proper anthems. In 1967, Preston wrote a setting of a Missa Brevis (Short Communion Mass) for Edington Music Festival. Also in 1968, he wrote a Magnificat and a Nunc Dimittis for the same festival.

His many recordings include the complete organ works of J. S. Bach and the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony, with James Levine conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, both for Deutsche Grammophon, He has played harpsichord (particularly earlier in his career), including on a recording of the Concert Champêtre, as well as organ. He has recorded Handel’s complete organ concertos twice: with Yehudi Menuhin conducting the Bath Festival Orchestra and then later on “historical instruments” with Trevor Pinnock directing The English Concert.

Already an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Preston was promoted Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours (by wikipedia)