The Fairy Queen : Work information

Henry Purcell ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Symphony of Harmony and Invention, Harry Christophers (Conductor)

This work

Work name
The Fairy Queen
Work number
Z. 629
1692-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Mark Brown
Anthony Howell
Recording date

Track listing

  • Prelude 1:50 min
  • Hornpipe 0:55 min
  • Air 0:53 min
  • Rondeau 1:37 min
  • Overture 1:26 min
  • Come, come 2:56 min
  • Fill up the bowl 6:13 min
  • Jig 1:14 min
  • Come all ye songsters 2:04 min
  • May the god of Wit inspire 4:17 min
  • Now join your warbling voices all 0:31 min
  • Sing while we trip 2:07 min
  • Night 4:39 min
  • Mystery 1:12 min
  • Secrecy 2:26 min
  • Sleep 4:04 min
  • Dance for the Followers of Night 1:16 min
  • Second Act Tune: Air 1:17 min
  • If love's a sweet passion - I press her hand 4:27 min
  • Symphony while swans come forward 1:49 min
  • Dance for the Fairies 0:53 min
  • Dance for the Green Men 1:40 min
  • Ye gentle spirits 5:25 min
  • Dialogue between Coridon and Mopsa 3:50 min
  • Dance for the Haymakers 0:55 min
  • A Nymph 3:09 min
  • A thousand, thousand ways 2:40 min
  • Third Act Tune: Hornpipe 1:00 min
  • Act Four. Symphony 6:17 min
  • An Attendant - Chorus: Now the night is chas'd away 2:03 min
  • Let the fifes and the clarions 1:25 min
  • Entry of Phoebus 0:36 min
  • Phoebus 2:42 min
  • Hail! Great parent of us all 1:56 min
  • Spring 2:19 min
  • Summer 1:44 min
  • Autumn 2:22 min
  • Winter 2:26 min
  • Hail! 1:02 min
  • Fourth Act Tune: Air 1:06 min
  • Act Five. Prelude 1:10 min
  • Juno: Thrice Happy Lovers 2:48 min
  • The Plaint 7:07 min
  • Entry Dance 1:17 min
  • Symphony 1:16 min
  • A Chinese Man 4:35 min
  • A Chinese Woman: 'Thus happy and free...' 1:30 min
  • Yes, Xansi 2:18 min
  • Monkey's Dance 0:48 min
  • Hark! How all things 2:09 min
  • Hark! The echoing air 2:44 min
  • Two Chinese Women - Chorus 2:34 min
  • Prelude 0:32 min
  • Hymen: See, see I obey 4:11 min
  • Two Chinese Women and Hymen 1:02 min
  • Chaconne 2:44 min
  • They shall be as happy 1:19 min


The re-opening of the London theatres at the Restoration stimulated a desire amongst the population for plays. Opera, as it was being performed on the continent, was not wanted or indeed possible without significant financial investment; however, extensive music could be provided for masques or ceremonial scenes within the play, thus creating a kind of semi-opera.

Purcell's The Fairy Queen is just such an example of semi-opera. A series of masques designed to be performed within a play based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was first performed in 1692.

Highlights include Act V's The Plaint, once sung by the nymph Laura for her lost lover, the series of songs sung by the seasons in Act IV, and the opening orchestral numbers.



The opera begins in the palace of the Duke. Egeus enters dragging in his daughter Hermia, and Lysander who is in love with her, to be judged before the Duke. It emerges that Egeus wants to marry Hermia to a young man called Demetrius, but Hermia who requites Lysander's love refuses to obey him. An ancient law decrees that a daughter must marry the man her father chooses or end her days in a nunnery. Egeus requests the Duke to enforce the law and oblige Hermia to marry Demetrius. In fact, Demetrius has already been betrothed to Helena, a friend of Hermia's but has forsaken her declaring that he no longer loves Helena but Hermia.

Lysander pleads his love for Hermia before the Duke but the latter decrees that he must yield to the law: Hermia must either marry Demetrius the next day, according to her father's will, or enter a convent. Left alone, Lysander and Hermia resolve to flee the city. Lysander knows of a place outside Athenian jurisdiction where they can be married. They decide to meet after nightfall and leave together. As they are parting to prepare for their flight, they meet Helena and tell her of their plan. When they have left Helena decides to tell Demetrius of their flight, thinking that she will thereby persuade him to resign himself to the situation and win back his love.

Unknown to everyone, several tradesmen of the town plan to bring themselves into favour by putting on a play for Hermia's wedding. Their choice falls upon "The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe", hardly the most appropriate piece for the occasion, but in the hands of the ignorant clowns the dramatic taleof the two lovers driven to suicide becomes a hilarious comdedy. They meet at the house of Quince, the carpenter, to decide on the parts each will play. Bottom, the weaver, is the most overbearing of them all and so eager to be the star that he wants to play all the parts himself. He is given the part of Pyramus but is vexed when he learns that Pyramus is a lover: he would have preferred to be a hero or a tyrant. On hearing that Thisbe is a female part he wants to play her too, and demonstrates in a falsetto voice that he is capable of expressing tender passion. But the others will not have it and Flute, the bellowsmender, will play Thisbe. Later on Bottom finds out that there is a lion in the play and terrifies his companions with his roars. Horrified, they all try to convince him to play Pyramus. After endless palavering they finally make up their minds and everone goes home to learn his part, agreeing to meet that same night in a wood outside Athens for a private rehearsal.

Meanwhile, Titania, the Fairy Queen, has come to this very wood fleeing from her husband Oberon. The King of the Fairies is in a jealous rage because Titania intends keeping a young orphaned Indian boy whose mother had been one of her ladies.


Puck encounters one of Titania's fairies in the wood and learns that the Fairy Queen will keep her revels there tonight. Knowing that Oberon too intends coming to the forest, Puck warns the fairy to dissuade the Queen. But hardly has he finished speaking than both Titania and Oberon enter and find themselves face to face. Titania accuses Oberon of infidelity and taunts him with having come to Athens only to amuse himself at Hermia's wedding. Oberon reports that she is really in love wiht the young Indian boy, but promises to mend his ways if she will give him the boy. Titania disdainfully refuses and leaves Oberon in a towering rage. He vows revenge for the insult. He shows Puck a little western flower the juice of which, laid upon the sleeping eyelids of a man or woman, will make him or her fall in love with the first person seen upon waking. Oberon wishes to use the juice of this flower to humiliate Titania and sends Puck to fetch it for him. Demetrius comes running into the wood pursued by Helena. Oberon secretly observes them. Helena has told Demetrius of Hermia's plan to flee with Lysander and Demetrius has rushed into the wood to find them. He is furious that Helena has followed him. When she proclaims her love for him he answers her in scorn and runs out, dodging among the trees to escape her, but she chases after him. Oberon who has seen and heard everything feels that Demetrius's treatment of Helena is unjust and decides to use the juice of the flower on him so that he will fall in love with Helena again. Puck returns with the flower and Oberon orders him to seek out Demetrius who he describes by his apparel. He tells Puck to place a few drops of the juice in Demetrius's eyes. He then goes in search of Titania. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Titania and her fairies have begun their revels.

Titania falls asleep and the fairies and elves vanish. Oberon steals into the glade and finds the sleeping Queen. He squeezes the juice of the flower on her eyelids, forseeing that she will open them upon some vile creature and fall in love with it. After his departure Lysander and Hermia enter. They have lost their way wandering through the wood and are so tired that they promptly fall asleep on the turf. Puck, still looking for Demetrius, comes upon them. He recognizes Lysander's clothes as those described by Oberon. So, taking Lysander for Demetrius, he pours the love-philtre into his eyes.


Helena has lost track of Demetrius and wanders forlornly into the glade where she sees the sleeping Hermia and Lysander. Fearing that they are dead, she awakens Lysander. Puck's love-philtre instantly takes effect and he falls madly in love with her. When he rapturously declares his passion, poor Helena is dumbfounded. She thinks he is making fun of her and rushes away from him. But Lysander, leaving Hermia asleep, goes after her, calling out his love. Hermia awakes. She has had a fearful nightmare in which a serpent was eating her heart away. She suddenly realises that she is alone and that Lysander is gone. Terror-stricken, she runs into the wood in search of her beloved.

The tradesmen now take possession of the clearing to begin their rehearsal. Several aspects of the story worry them. In the first place, Pyramus and Thisbe, whose meetings must be kept secret from their families, whisper their words of love through a chink in a wall. Another problem is that the lovers meet by moonlight. After deliberation, they decide to disguise Starveling, the tailor, as the wall, and Snout, the tinker, will represent Moonshine, with a dog, a bush of thorns and a lantern. As they are about to begin their rehearsal, Puck enters and decides to be an auditor. After the prologue, spoken by Quince, in which the audience is told that the actors mean only to please, Pyramus (Bottom) and Thisbe (Flute) enter and whisper their love through Starveling's fingers that represent the cranny in the wall. They swear eternal love and try to kiss, but can only kiss the hole in the wall. Pyramus then suggests that they meet by night at Ninus's tomb where they may kiss to their hearts' delight. The lovers then go off. In the next scene Snout comes on as Moonshine and explains his strange appearance to the audience. Thisbe now enters to meet Pyramus before the tomb as agreed, but she is horrified to find a lion there instead of her lover. The lion, played by Snug the joiner, chases Thisbe, but she escapes, letting fall her mantle upon which the lion weeps before going off in search of something more succulent to eat.

When Pyramus enters he sees the crumpled mantle and concludes that the lion has devoured Thisbe. In despair he kills himself, just as Thisbe warily steals in. She now kills herself too, thus bringing the absurd play to an end. Puck, unseen by the actors, has enormously enjoyed their farce. Oberon, though, has ordered him to be sure that some vile creature be near Titania when she awakes and Puck decides to turn Bottom's head into that of an ass. Unaware of the transformation, Bottom continues to strut about the glade, braying loudly. The noise rouses the Fairy Queen from her slumber and, as Puck had intended, she forthwith falls in love with the ass. Her passion for the hideous beast is so strong that, murmuring sweet words of love, she resolves to lead him to her bower. After their departure Oberon appears. Puck tells him what has happened and he rejoices at the success of his trick. At this moment Helena and Lysander run across the clearing and Oberon realizes that Puck has mistaken his man. He commands him to put matters right as soon as possible. Meanwhile Titania has reached her secret bower and starts to caress her beloved Bottom, blind to his ass's head.


Oberon and Puck have found Demetrius asleep in the wood. Oberon pours the philtre on his eyelids in order that he should fall in love again with Helena. She enters the glade, still pursued by the love-sick Lysander. Helena is exasperated by his behaviour and while they are arguing Demetrius awakes. Naturally, he immediately falls in love with Helena, to whom the situation has now become even more unbearable. Hermia enters, discovers that Lysander is pursuing Helena, and a violent quarrel breaks out among the four young lovers. Hermia realizes that Lysander has forsaken her for Helena and accuses the latter of having stolen him from her. Helena, on the other hand, finds herself loved by both young men and does not believe in the sincerity of either. Lysander and Demetrius accuse one another of spitefulness and treachery, and both of them want to marry Helena. All four of them hurl insults at each other and go off to find a place where they can fight it out. Puck is amused by the situation, but Oberon berates him for the mischief he has wrought and orders him to undo it by bringing the rightful lovers together again. Puck obeys, and, invisible to them, leads the four young people astray in the forest until they are exhausted and fall asleep. In the meantime, Oberon has decided to release Titania from the love-philtre's spell. He has recovered the young Indian boy he covets and when he awakens the queen she is reconciled with him. She remembers the events of the night as no more than a dream, but is appalled at the idea that she had been in love with an ass. Puck restores Bottom to his human shape and while he, like the four young lovers, is still asleep, the fairies celebrate the break of day.


Day has broken and the Duke and Egeus are hunting in the forest. To their astonishment they come upon Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena lying asleep on the ground. They awaken them and ask them how they come to be there together. The young lovers describe what has befallen them during the night and Lysander and Hermia confess that they have fled from Athens. Demetrius now admits his love for Hermia has vanished and he loves Helena as he did before. The Duke overrides Egeus's protests and pronounces the betrothal of Lysander and Hermia and that of Demetrius and Helena. They then hasten away to Athens to celebrate the marriages. When they have left, Quince, Snug, Flute, Snout and Starveling creep into the glade, hoping to find Bottom: without him they will not be able to present their play, and they are distressed at his disappearance. However, the hunting-horns have awoken Bottom who, upon seeing his friends, promptly tells them of a dream he has had. But they interrupt him and tell him that the lovers are already at the temple about to be married, and they all hurry away to give their play during the nuptial festivities. The Duke can hardly believe the nocturnal adventures recounted by the lovers. Whereupon all the fairies appear to convince him.

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'')