Master of Majesty & Lament by Ken Myers

From Heavenly Harmony

Master of Majesty & Lament

Henry Purcell (1659–1695) composed many more works for use in secular settings than in the Church’s worship. During his lifetime and in ours, his reputation has been built less on his anthems, devotional songs, and service music than on his works of chamber music, his operas and other theatrical works, and his lavish compositions for special royal celebrations. But it was within the context of liturgical music that Purcell’s musical genius first blossomed, and the many hours of sacred song that he left behind after his short life merit sustained attention by listeners and—where they are able and wise—even by church choirs.

In about 1668, when Purcell was eight or nine years old, he became a chorister in the Chapel Royal. “In” rather than “at” is the correct preposition here, since the Chapel Royal was and is an organization rather than a building, a group of clergy and musicians who serve the royal household.

In addition to singing in services for the royal family, the young choristers of the Chapel Royal would have learned to play a number of instruments and studied music theory. Henry Purcell’s teachers included Christopher Gibbons, the son of the distinguished composer Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and John Blow (1649–1708), a noted composer and organist at Westminster Abbey, a post that Purcell himself would assume in 1679.

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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