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Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas Hardcover – February 11, 1988

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Editorial Reviews

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"A required addition to the shelf of the opera lover....It has something for everyone: source studies for the scholar, structural analyses for the teacher, and performance history for the operagoer. It raises many stimulating issues and offers provocative viewpoints; it is a significant contribution to the literature on Purcell's dramatic music and deserves close attention."--Opera Quarterly


"Here is a book that is quite enjoyable to read, a distinction that applies to few works of comparable scholarly excellence."--The American Recorder


"Harris has made a significant contribution to the history of performance practice."--Times Literary Supplement


"Harris brings together a broad range of literary and musical scholarship to make important contributions to our knowledge of the context, origins, sources, and subsequent performance history of Purcell's opera."--Notes


--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Ellen T. Harris is professor emeritus at MIT and has served on the music faculties of Columbia University and the University of Chicago. Her previous books include Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas, and she has spoken at Lincoln Center and appeared on PBS NewsHour and BBC Radio 3. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 11, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0193152533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0193152533
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,766,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Ellen Harris' guidebook on Purcell's work, arguably the greatest English opera before Benjamin Britten's string of twentieth-century masterpieces, accomplishes a lot in not very many pages. She devotes the first part to the libretto by Nahum Tate, placing it within the context of his other works and Restoration drama in general, and also comparing it to its source, Virgil's Aeneid. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion she reaches is that, though Dido was given originally with an allegorical Prologue (for which the music is now lost), the nature of the opera itself means it is most likely not allegorical, contrary to the assertions of some other writers. This is followed by a discussion of the most important extant manuscript sources, including the one copy of the libretto from the first production in 1689, and the earliest and therefore most important copy of the music, the so-called Tenbury manuscript dating from much later, probably around 1775. (It is this source on which most of the best current editions are based.)

She then turns to the work itself, discussing its musical aspects such as Purcell's concern for symmetry and tonal unity, his skill at setting the English language, and his use of ground-bass techniques. Again, one notes the care with which the composer's work is set within its historical context and compared and contrasted with his contemporaries both in England and on the Continent. The final portion of the book comprises a history of Dido's performances and recordings since its composition, and the various alterations that were made in both text and music to suit contemporary taste, followed by a general return to a more authentic performance style in the later twentieth-century.
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