by Purcell, the most famous of them being ‘Let the dreadful engines;’ and on St. Cecilia's day, in the same year, were performed his famous Te Deum and Jubilate, with orchestral accompaniments. For the funeral of Queen Mary he wrote a well-known burial service, of which one section, the anthem ‘Thou knowest, Lord,’ has been continuously in use until the present day; it was incorporated by Croft in his setting of the service. In a volume of thirty-six odes and monodies in memory of the queen there are three set to music, one by Blow, and two, to Latin words, by Purcell. Of the music to plays written by Purcell in 1695, the last year of his life, the most important compositions are ‘Bonduca,’ adapted from Beaumont and Fletcher, and the third part of ‘Don Quixote,’ which, though it failed on the stage, became famous from its containing the song ‘From rosy bowers.’ This is said to be ‘the last song the author sett, it being in his sickness;’ a similar claim put forth for ‘Lovely Albina’ may be rejected.
Purcell died on 21 Nov. 1695, probably at his house in Marsham Street, Westminster (Prof. J. F. Bridge in Musical Times, November 1895). The tradition reported by Hawkins, that the composer caught cold from being kept waiting for admittance into his house, his wife being determined to punish him for keeping late hours, is generally discredited. A consumptive tendency is surmised, and some support is given to the supposition by the deaths in infancy of three of the composer's children—in 1682, 1686, and 1687 respectively. He was buried on 26 Nov. beneath the organ in Westminster Abbey. The Latin epitaph on the gravestone was renewed in 1876. On a pillar near the grave is a tablet, with an inscription, placed there by a pupil of Purcell—Annabella, wife of Sir Robert Howard, the dramatist, who probably wrote the inscription. The short will, made on the day of the composer's death, was proved by the widow, Frances Purcell, the sole legatee (cf. Wills from Doctors' Commons, Camd. Soc. p. 158).
That Purcell was a most learned musician, consummately skilled in the exercise of feats of technical ingenuity, and delighting in them for their own sake, is amply shown in his canons and similar works; in particular he excelled in writing, upon a ground bass, music that was not merely ingenious, but in the highest degree expressive. The crowning instance of his powers in this direction is the death-song of Dido in his first opera, an ‘inspiration,’ as it may well be called, that has never been surpassed for pathos and direct emotional appeal. The instructive comparison of this number with the ‘Crucifixus’ of Bach's Mass in B minor—a composition of a design almost precisely similar (see preface to the Purcell Society's edition of ‘Dido and Æneas’)—shows what a point of advance had been reached by the Englishman five years before the birth of the German master. It was this directness of expression rather than his erudition that raised Purcell to that supreme place among English composers which has never been disputed. The very quality of broad choral effect which has been most admired in Handel's works was that in which Purcell most clearly anticipated him; in actual melodic beauty, Purcell's airs are at least on a level with Handel's, while the mere exhibitions of vocal skill for which Purcell is sometimes reproached compare very favourably with the conventional opera songs of Handel. When it is remembered that Purcell lived at a time when the new art of monodic writing, as opposed to the elaborate involutions of the madrigalian period, was only beginning to be understood in England, the flowing ease of his melodies, and the mastery displayed in their treatment, must appear little short of marvellous. That it is difficult if not impossible to trace any process of development between his earlier and later works seems strange, until it is pointed out that a space of twenty years covered his entire career as a composer (or twenty-five years, if we accept the theory that the ‘Macbeth’ music is his).
A very small number of Purcell's compositions were published during his lifetime. Songs by him appeared in various collections published by Heptinstall, Playford, and others, and occasionally, as in the case of ‘Theodosius,’ ‘Amphitryon,’ the ‘Fool's Preferment,’ the ‘Indian Queen,’ the ‘Fairy Queen,’ and ‘Don Quixote,’ songs from the plays, professedly complete, were printed either separately or together with the text of the piece. The only works of any magnitude printed in the composer's lifetime were the three-part sonatas (1683), the St. Cecilia ode for that year, published in 1684, and the opera ‘Dioclesian.’ To these were added, after his death, ‘A Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinett’ (1696), the ‘Te Deum and Jubilate,’ a book of ‘Theatre Ayres,’ the ‘Ten Sonatas of Four Parts,’ including the famous ‘Golden Sonata’ (1697) and the first book of ‘Orpheus Britannicus,’ a collection of the composer's most famous songs. A second book of this collection was printed in 1702. The second edition of the two books appeared in 1706 and 1711 respectively, and a third, of both together,