Early English Opera Henry Purcell John Blow William D’Avenant Composers First Opera Venus and Adonis Dido and Aeneas The Siege of Rhodes Pre-Opera English Masques Music in Dramas Information Author Resources Concept Map Exit
Henry Purcell (1659-95)
Henry Purcell is often
considered the greatest
English composer of all
time. Throughout his life
he helped to refine the art
of opera in England. Purcell
helped to establish a musical
style that was distinctly English in nature. English composers still emulate his style to this day.
John Blow (1649-1708) John Blow was the teacher of Henry Purcell. Blow was the organist at Westminster Abbey for 11 years. He was also a private musician of James II. Blow is often credited for having composed the first English opera. Whether or not this is true, he like Purcell undoubtedly played a major role in the establishment of the English Opera Exit
William D’Avenant Unlike Blow and Purcell, D’Avenant was not a composer; he was a playwright. D’Avenant Had written several English plays and had collaborated with several different composers to produce a great number of Masques before they were outlawed by the Puritan ruled Parliament. Though he is not often credited, he decisively wrote the first English Opera. Exit
Before opera had established itself in England, music could still be heard on the stage in collaboration with drama. Although this may sound very similar to opera, it has very distinct differences. The following items were the two settings that music and drama were combined.
Music in Dramas
Masques represented England’s first attempt at combining the visual, and fine arts. Masques differed from operas in the particular arts that were stressed. Though there was singing in masques, it was generally done in choruses between movements. Masques tended to focus more on the visual arts, dance, and poetry.
Cont. to Music in Drama
Music in Drama
Long before opera was even created in Italy, Elizabethan playwrights like William Shakespeare were already incorporating song into dramatic works. What separated these works from opera was the context behind the singing. Opera uses song to tell a story, it plays a central role in the progression of the storyline. Playwrights like Shakespeare only used song when one character onstage was entertaining another.
Back to English Masques
There is some debate that currently wages over who wrote the first English opera. The following are the three works that are often credited as the first English opera.
Venus and Adonis
Dido and Aeneas
The Siege of Rhodes
Venus and Adonis Venus and Adonis was written in 1683 by John Blow. Both the libretto and the music survive today. However, many experts argue over the classification of this work. Some experts call Venus and Adonis a masque and others call it a semi-opera. The New Grove names it as the earliest surviving English opera. This work greatly influenced Purcell to attempt his own opera. Cont. to Dido and Aeneas Exit
Dido and Aeneas Dido and Aeneas was an opera completed by Henry Purcell in 1689. Much of the structure is based on Blow’s Venus and Adonis but Purcell did succeed in making an opera that resembled the French/Italian style
in both length and technical
virtuosity. Purcell continued
to write semi-operas
throughout the remainder of
his career but he never
published another opera.
Cont. to The Siege of Rhodes
Exit PLAY VIDEO of Dido and Aeneas
The Siege of Rhodes The Siege of Rhodes is undoubtedly the earliest attempt at creating an English opera in the French/Italian style. The opera was mostly written by armature musicians who collaborated with D’Avenant to produce the work in 1656. None of the music from the production has survived. Exit
Author My name is Thomas Hales I am currently a student at Grand Valley State University. I am majoring in vocal music education. Some day I hope to get a job as a high school choir director. If you wish to contact me, my email address is [email_address] . Exit
Robert Donington, The Rise of Opera. Faber and Faber, London WC. 1981
Edward J. Dent, Foundations of English Opera. Da Capo Press, NY. 1965
William Patterson, The Dramatic Works of Sir William D’Avenant, Vol 3. H. Sutheran & co., London. 1873
William D’Avenant, Love and Honour and the Siege of Rhodes. D.C Health and Co. Publishers, Boston, and London. 1909