Performance History and Reception

Authored by: Rebecca Herissone

The Ashgate Research Companion to Henry Purcell

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754666455
eBook ISBN: 9781315613024
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043270


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For many composers other than Purcell, the study of reception has long since been what Jim Samson has described as a standard ‘part of the tool-kit of historical research’, so that even rudimentary textbooks usually include some consideration of reception within the broader narrative of composer- or work-based studies. 1 1

Jim Samson, ‘Reception’, in Grove Music Online, (last accessed 27 August 2009). Samson mentions in particular the Cambridge Music Handbooks series, which has yet to include a volume on a work by Purcell.

Yet even the most thoughtful and forward-looking volumes of this type within the Purcellian literature stop more or less dead in 1695, 2 2

See, for example, Peter Holman, Henry Purcell, Oxford Studies of Composers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), as well as Peter Holman and Robert Thompson, ‘Purcell: (3) Henry Purcell (ii)’ in Grove Music Online , (last accessed 27 August 2009).

and it is probably fair to say that – despite some important exceptions that will be considered in this chapter – consideration of the broader context in which Restoration music was heard, disseminated and appropriated by later generations and came to shape our own perceptions of it today has been largely overlooked within the narratives attached to Purcell’s music. This situation has potentially serious consequences because it has become clear for composers whose reception has been more thoroughly investigated just how profound an effect posthumously developed opinions about their music can have on subsequent reception to the present day. As this chapter will demonstrate, the ‘afterlife’ of Purcell’s music is no exception in this respect. 3 3

The term ‘afterlife’, which Dahlhaus attributes to Walter Benjamin, is intended here to connote both performance of Purcell’s works (with related activities such as the publishing of editions), and their critical reception; I would not go so far as to agree with Dahlhaus’s definition, which is that that the term refers to ‘the evolution of [art works’] inner truths, which, especially in major works, remain largely latent at first and only gradually come to light’. See Carl Dahlhaus, Foundations of Music History, trans. J.B. Robinson (Cambridge, London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 155.

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