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Dido and Aeneas : Work information

Henry Purcell ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Ewa Podles (Contralto), Patrick Peire (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Dido and Aeneas
Work number
Z. 626
1689-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Ivan Pastor
Jean-Marc Laisne
Recording date
1990-01-01 00:00:00

The Composers

Henry Purcell

The son of Thomas and Elizabeth Purcell, Henry Purcell began writing music at the age of eight. His musical career began as a chorister in the Chapel Royal, but when his voice matured in 1673, he was appointed as an unpaid assistant to John Hingeston, who was in charge of the King's keyboard and wind instruments. He also acquired experience in organ tuning at Westminster Abbey and was paid to copy books of organ parts.

In 1677 he was appointed Composer-In-Ordinary for the King's Violins and in 1679 succeeded his teacher John Blow  as organist at Westminster Abbey, providing him with a salary and a house. It was probably in 1680 or 1681 that he married. From that time he began writing music for the theatre. In July 1682 he was appointed as organist of the Chapel Royal, succeeding Edward Lowe and, in 1683, he succeeded John Hingeston as organ maker and Keeper of the King's instruments.

Purcell's court appointments were renewed by James II in 1685 and by William III in 1689, and on each occasion he had the duty of providing music for the coronation. The last royal occasion for which he provided music was the funeral of Queen Mary in 1695, shortly before his death. It is likely that he died of pneumonia, having spend the night locked out of his house by his wife. He made a will on the day that he died and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 26 November 1695.

Related Composers: John Blow

- MIDI FILE - Funeral music of Queen Mary (complete) (18'00'')

Track listing

  • Act III - Recit: 'Thy hand Belinda...' 5:18 min


One of the greatest of all musical tragedies, Purcell's all-sung masque Dido and Aeneas, based on Virgil's Aeneid, is most famous for Dido's lament, 'When I am Laid in Earth', the last of three ground bass airs. Modelled on Blow's Venus and Adonis (c1682), Dido is known to have been performed only once during Purcell's life, at a boarding school in Chelsea run by Josias Priest (a famous dancer and choreographer) sometime before 1689.

It's possible, though, that the opera was written for court performance and only later adapted for the schoolgirls. The musical language certainly suggests a composition date closer to 1685 than 1690 and while the prologue, the music of which is lost, refers indirectly to the revolution of 1688 with Phoebus and Venus representing the new political order of William and Mary, it may have been added later.

Dido's lament, 'When I am Laid in Earth', makes fequent appearances on compilation albums and was used in the 2000 film The Man Who Cried starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.