Henry Purcell's Fairy Queen: A Case Study

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Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen: A Case Study
The evolution of music can be viewed as a linear timeline of key, innovative composers who have far-reaching influences upon the musical continuum and perhaps epitomises the societal views which are relevant to their time period through their canonical pieces. As a result, in order to conduct a case study into any piece of music one must first realise said piece in regards to the concurrent political climate.

Between 1642 and 1651 England was characterised by turmoil through civil war, which was essentially caused over the conduct of British government. This war was between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, with the Parliamentarians being the victor. This resulted in both the beheading of King Charles I and the exile of his son, who chose to live his exile in France and who would later return to England and be known as King Charles II. Additionally, the English Commonwealth arose to this end.
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Following Charles II’s coronation, there was an artistic renaissance in England with a preference for “scenery to poetic illusion, heroic couplets to blank verse… They demanded music, dancing and masques in the latest French styles.” To this end, The Fairy Queen was created, a semi-opera with “singing, dancing and machines interwoven, after the manner of an opera.” To clarify, a ‘semi-opera’ is a term which was used to apply to Restoration pieces which combined spoken plays with masque-esque episodes which employed the use of singing and dancing characters. When music occured in these masques, it was typically following either a love scene or that of the supernatural. The first examples were the Shakespeare adaptations which were produced by Thomas Betterman with music written by Matthew Locke. Following Matthew Locke’s death a second flowering produced the semi-operas of Henry Purcell, notably King Arthur and The Fairy
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