English Royal Funeral Music: Purcell, Morley, Tomkins / Vox Luminis


Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was the last great English composer before the twentieth century. The program on this Ricercar CD performed by Lionel Meunier and Vox Luminis offers some of Purcell's most profound utterances, along with exquisite music by Thomas Morley (1557-1602) and Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656). The premise for this program of English funeral music fascinates without a note being heard.

William III and Mary of England were crowned king and queen in 1689 and while William was absent, busy waging wars, Mary governed the country. Henry Purcell served the queen during this time, for a period of five years, until she succumbed to small pox in 1694, just short of her 34th birthday. Vox Luminis and Les Trompettes des Plaisirs, a quartet performing on the short-lived flatt trumpet (or slide-trumpet) and bass drum, perform the music that was played for Queen Mary's procession, her funeral at Westminster Abbey, and internment.

One section of the service, The Funeral Sentences by Henry Purcell, is utterly heart-rending in the communion of sorrow and anguish, yet hope, that Purcell seems to express. There may be no more profound a communication in all the history of Western Music. Through colorful, sometimes stinging dissonance, the chromatic measured motion of the voices, and the subtle, fleeting appearances of a major mode, Purcell paints an image that only love and loss could inspire. You can listen to a section of this music in the audio sample provided, sublimely performed by Vox Luminis.

The music of Purcell to be heard here is as profoundly beautiful as anything from Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. If it is heard with a still mind and complete attention, one can scale the summit of possibilities that only great music can inspire.