which contains some of his best and most original work. From 1676 to 1678 Purcell was copyist at Westminster Abbey, and in 1677 he wrote an elegy ‘on the death of his worthy friend Mr. Matthew Locke, musick composer in ordinary to his majesty.’ A letter (printed in Cummings's ‘Life’) written by Thomas Purcell to John Gostling [q. v.], the bass singer, minor canon of Canterbury, on 8 Feb. 1678–1679, is interpreted to mean that Henry Purcell was then writing anthems specially intended to show off Gostling's wonderful voice. But the most remarkable of Purcell's anthems, ‘They that go down to the sea in ships,’ was written later.
The work which in some ways is the crowning manifestation of Purcell's genius, viz. the opera ‘Dido and Æneas,’ has been conclusively proved to date from 1680, not earlier, and for a composer of twenty-two the feat is sufficiently surprising. At the time continuous dramatic music was unknown in England, and Purcell wrote his opera entirely without spoken dialogue, and with a sense of dramatic truth that was not surpassed by any succeeding musician for many generations. It was prepared for a performance given at the boarding-school of one Josias Priest, a dancing-master who in 1680 removed from Leicester Fields to Chelsea. The libretto was by Nahum Tate, and an epilogue by Tom D'Urfey was spoken by Lady Dorothy Burk.
In the same year (1680) John Blow [q. v.] resigned his appointment as organist of Westminster Abbey in Purcell's favour; and two ‘Welcome Songs,’ for the Duke of York and the king respectively, seem to have brought the composer into notice at court. Compositions of this ‘occasional’ kind were written by Purcell almost every year from this time until his death. In 1682 he was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal, while still retaining his post at the abbey. In 1683 he published by subscription his ‘Sonnatas of III Parts: Two Viollins and Basse: to the Organ or Harpsecord.’ In the title Purcell is styled ‘Composer in ordinary to his most Sacred Majesty,’ an appointment which Rimbault conjectures he received in the same year as that to the Chapel Royal (Old Cheque Book of the Chapel Royal). The (twelve) sonatas were published in four part-books, with an admirable portrait of the composer, a dedication to the king, and a very interesting preface, in which Purcell declares his object to be to give a ‘just imitation of the most fam'd Italian masters; principally, to bring the seriousness and gravity of that sort of Musick into vogue and reputation among our countrymen, whose humor, 'tis time now, should begin to loath the levity, and balladry of our neighbours.’ The last words doubtless refer to the superficial style of the French music of the day, which had not been without previous influence on the composer. A phrase in the dedication implies that it was through the king that Purcell became acquainted with the Italian composers. The suggestion is corroborated by the fact that a manuscript in the Royal College of Music, which contains a number of vocal works transcribed from a manuscript in Purcell's handwriting, includes a duet, ‘Crucior in hac flamma,’ by Carissimi, who was Charles II's favourite composer. The special model taken by Purcell appears to have been Giovanni Battista Vitali, whose sonatas, printed at Bologna in 1677, show a striking similarity to those of the English master in the structure of the works, as distinguished from the loosely grouped ‘suites’ of dance movements and from the ‘fantasies’ which had been in vogue in England from the time of Orlando Gibbons. Of these ‘fantasies’ Purcell left in manuscript several specimens, mainly three years older than the sonatas. The Italian indications of time, &c., employed were then so much of a novelty in England that it was deemed advisable to explain them in the preface to the sonatas. Purcell's admiration for Vitali is attested by the fact that he named his eldest son after him ‘John Baptista’ in 1682.
Purcell began in 1683 a series of odes for the celebration of St. Cecilia's day. It would seem that he wrote for that year's festival no fewer than three, one to Latin words; only one apparently was performed; it begins, ‘Welcome to all the pleasures,’ and was published in the following year. In 1684 Purcell took part in an organ competition at the Temple Church, playing, with Blow, on Father Smith's organ; the rival instrument, by Renatus Harris [q. v.], being played by Draghi. At the time of the coronation of James II, Purcell was paid 34l. 12s. out of the secret-service money for superintending the erection of an organ in Westminster Abbey specially designed for the occasion. Purcell probably played the organ at the opening ceremony. The ‘Purcell’ who is mentioned among the basses of the choir was presumably a relative. The composer's voice was a counter-tenor.
In 1686 he returned to dramatic composition with the music to Dryden's ‘Tyrannic Love,’ while a ‘quickstep,’ apparently written about the same time, obtained extraordinary popularity as the air of ‘Lilliburlero.’ The year 1687 is marked only by an elegy on John Playford [q. v.], the music publisher. In January 1687–8 Purcell wrote an anthem,