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Purcell, Handel & Literature

Senate House, University of London 

Friday and Saturday, 20-21 November 2009

Taken together, the careers of the two composers constitute one of the most remarkable periods in London’s music-making. Although Handel’s career in London commenced only fifteen years after Purcell’s death, their styles in setting English texts were very different, partly because of their individual approaches to word-setting, and partly because of the different styles in which they worked. Yet for both of them English literary texts—reaching as far back as Shakespeare in Purcell’s case—were fundamental to aspects of their activity. Both wrote for major productions (of plays or un-staged oratorios) in the London theatres, and contributed to some common genres - Cecilian and court odes, and liturgical church music on texts from the Book of Common Prayer. Handel set odes by John Dryden that had originally been written during Purcell’s lifetime, and also texts by John Milton; texts by Congreve (though not the same ones) form a common thread in works by both composers. Nahum Tate was the librettist of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas; Handel’s anthems include settings of texts from the metrical versions of the Psalms by Tate and Brady. Both composers, however, were also reliant on other librettists of their own generations: D’Urfey for Purcell’s stage works, for example, Miller, Jennens and Morell for Handel’s oratorios.

The intention of the conference is to bring together participants with interests in music and literature, and to cover a range of relevant topics, such as: the literary and musical genres, the nature of the libretti and the composers’ treatment of them; the various forms of musical dramas (as genres, and in relation to the stage conventions of the 17th and 18th centuries); the status of Milton and Dryden as "musical" poets; the influence of text settings by Purcell and Handel on subsequent composers, and in subsequent literature; the genres of the court and Cecilian odes; the setting of English liturgical texts.

Although it is anticipated that the principal focus will be on English texts (and London performance conditions), the theme may also encompass the influence of Italian and Classical literature, Handel’s settings of Italian texts in his operas and cantatas, and relevant topics relating to German literature. Proposals for papers that consider the importance of either or both these composers within literature of later periods will also be welcomed.

Contact us

Literature and Music Research Group
The Open University
School of Arts & Humanities
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA

Delia da Sousa Correa
Robert Samuels