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Purcellian Pleasures and Pains


Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell

Boston may be quaint in having performing societies devoted to individual composers and periods. At 200 years old, the Handel and Haydn Society, of course, has the pride of first place. The Henry Purcell Society of Boston joined this tableau d’honneur just one year ago in an inaugural concert last April called “Welcome to All the Pleasures” [reviewed here]. HPS hopes to follow that success with another at 3pm on Sunday the 23rd of November, in All Saints Parish Church of Brookline. The founders, soprano Jessica Cooper and lawyer Bill Chapman, spoke with BMInt about the Society:

BMInt: So, why have you founded a Henry Purcell Society of Boston?

JC: There is such tremendous musical and emotional power contained in Purcell’s music, and such a vast range of genres – from the bawdiest catches to sacred odes, from solo songs to opera—not all of which get performed that much, and, when they are, often get treated as companion pieces to the main part of a concert. We would like to bring Purcell’s music to the front of the stage as the main attraction!

It was the emotional power of Purcell’s music that grabbed me. You know, in the same way that as a young man if I listened to a certain Beatles song, for example, I’d get a very strong emotional response—that’s what happened when I discovered Purcell, it’s exactly the same thing. Once I figured out how his music resonated with me, I became obsessed, started putting my hands on every book and recording I could find. As far as I was concerned, Purcell just needed to be up there with those other titans of the musical world.

FLE: I share your feeling about Purcell’s power, and in fact, his music will figure prominently in my eventual memorial service, but I must ask a journalist’s question. How did you two come to the idea of a society?

BC: Well, by chance my niece, who is Jessica’s student, was working on a Purcell song and they got to talking and she mentioned that her uncle has a portrait of Purcell in his house, and one thing led to another and Jessica and I started talking about our shared admiration for Purcell. And then we realized it had to happen—someone had to do it!

JC: And oddly enough, our two talents—Bill being a lawyer, me being a musician —work together really well. We’ve got a similar entrepreneurial spirit, and decided to go for it!

And what is the Society going to do?

JC: Our goal is to present two to three concerts in the year, spanning a wide range of Purcell’s works, so as to be both thrilling and educational. Our next program is on November 23rd in Brookline: we will be doing the Te Deum and Jubilate, composed in 1694, and several verse anthems and songs lamenting the death of Queen Mary in 1695, just a the year before Purcell himself died so tragically young. This has been quite the adventure, combining three different choirs and our wonderful soloists! We’re also planning our concerts over the next couple of seasons, stay tuned for the announcement of our late spring concerts! We have some very exciting collaborations in the works.

Mary II dedicate of funeral music by William Wissing
Mary II, dedicate of funeral music by Purcell

BC: Also, we are building a website that music lovers can go to and find out what is going on in the world of Purcell in the Boston area – We’ll be expanding it over the next season to include more information. We hope to develop a Society that is both socially and musically rewarding. Our last concert was fun, and we want people to have fun at our concerts!

JC: I think already people have started looking to the Purcell Society to hear what’s happening in Purcell. I remember at the opening day of the last season at Fenway someone tweeted “Hey they’re playing Purcell’s trumpet tune” – and they tagged the Society. That was great!

Is the Society devoted to an exclusively Purcellian purpose?

JC: For the first few years, since there is so much music to explore, the repertoire will be nearly entirely Purcell. But our mission statement says that we are aiming to promote, publicize, and perform the works of Henry Purcell and his contemporaries. So we will also be programming works by Blow, Humfrey, and Daniel Purcell, to name just a few.

And how can we find information about your next seasons?

J.C.: Our website is the best place, but also check us out on Facebook and Twitter! And also in the concert listings here on BMInt.

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