Composer: Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Piece:  Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas

Date: 1689

Form: Recitative and Aria

Libretto: by Nahum Tate. Based on Virgil’s Aeneid

Dido and Aeneas is a monumental work in Baroque opera and is remembered as one of Purcell’s foremost theatrical works. It’s first performance was in 1689 at Josias Priest’s girls’ school in London. Following this performance it was not staged again in Purcell’s lifetime. The original score is lost and most performances are taken from a copy which was made sometime around 1750. The instrumentation consists of four-part strings and continuo.

This work is a beautiful example of lyric drama. It’s vocal melodies are simple (possibly because the intended performers were schoolchildren) but powerfully moving, and it contains all of the elements of a successful amateur entertainment: dancing, choral singing, and an uncomplicated storyline. It is as moving today as it was in Purcell’s time.

In the recitative (secco) the voice is accompanied by sparse, simple chords on a guitar. The aria is in two parts which feature
eleven repetitions of a chromatically descending ground bass. Intense musical expression is carried by flowing melodic lines in a minor key and the sparse instrumentation keeps the vocal at the forefront. At times there is an overlap of the ground bass parts with the vocal phrases. They are not always perfectly synchronized.