Purcell: Life and Death of Queen Mary

October 5, 2019 @ 7 pm, German Church, Helsinki

Utopia Chamber Choir and musicians, dir. Mikael Maasalo

The year 1689 was a time of feast for the Anglicans: England’s unpopular king James II abdicated in favour of his daughter Mary and son-in-law William of Orange, both Protestants. In the wake of this so-called Glorious Revolution, the Parliament grew stronger and the excessive lifestyle of the royal family was curbed.

Naturally, the austerity measures targeted the arts. Henry Purcell, Junior composer of the court, had to relinquish part of his duties and undertake creative entrepreneurship. Thus, he infiltrated the field of dramatic music; his output incorporated elements in the vogue enticing a larger audience outside Westminster, and his career skyrocketed. Purcell became eternal — Britain’s Orpheus and the Shakespeare of music.

Queen Mary II in her turn is best remembered for the tender, joyful, merry, sublime and beautiful music that Purcell composed for her. Mary was well loved by the people and a great patron of arts. She did not have an ear for all of Purcell’s works, though: once she allegedly asked the musicians to play a popular ditty instead. Purcell one-upped by weaving said ditty into his next birthday ode for the Queen.

Mary died of smallpox at the early age of 32 years to the great grief of the court and of the English people. Purcell composed an elegy of magical beauty in her memory, brass music for the funeral procession and a part of the funeral service; the latter was also performed at the composer’s own funeral only a year later. There have been some rumours regarding Purcell and Mary’s relationship but they are best left alone. In a way, though, the composer and the Queen made each other immortal.

Welcome to our concert!