Purcell Fanboy Zone

This is to be my second post about Purcell. And proud fanboy that I am, I’m always eager to see the infection spread.  Today, I stumbled on a recording of Dido and Aeneas that happens to feature a stable-full of my favourite singers.  Most of us are familiar with the famous funeral dirge that caps the end of the piece but I realized that I’ve never actually listened to the opera all the way through before.  Chalk it up to the repelling nature of people overplaying their hits.  I wonder how many of us have been turned off of an extended listening by one too many massacres of the lament in question.  The opera as a whole has got lots of the characteristic word painting we’ve come to expect from Purcell, come to expect from Purcell, come to expect from Purcell and a lot of his own perverse harmonic way.  Very improper.  More on that later.  Or maybe right now…

And this is exactly what I like about Purcell: He manifests enough of the idea of common practice harmony, as recognizable by our 20th century ears, to keep the music from sounding like your mom’s church service and mixes in a twinge of broken renaissance-era alchemy.  It’s unusual.  For those of us who were fed a steady diet of the three B’s, the music never seems to go where you expect it to go.  Case in point, in the measures before the witch’s trio (Click here for the recording) it’s only a tap on the shoulder for about three bars and barely a “Hello” before it’s an icepick to the sinuses.  Of course, the music school gods command me to make a Kovarik of the fact that it’s not that big a deal to have dominant harmony resolving over a tonic living in the basement.  I mean, if you’re talking about the three B’s, two of them may as well be bread and butter.  But it’s undeniably unusual in this instance. I would posit that Purcell’s colleagues probably thought he was blasted six ways from Thursday (Or trying to fit seventeen Tuesdays into six bottles of Wednesdays).  Don’t get me wrong, I get that same wild vibe from Corelli and eventually Handel but with Purcell it just seems like he got it before the meat was left out in the sun too long.  Or rather, maybe the proper way to characterize it is that he left the meat out in the sun just long enough.  I love the wrenching way in which he’ll let his harmonies grind their pits out.  It’s refreshingly reckless.

It’s also only about an hour long so it’s easily digested.