PURCELL, Henry, 1659-1695

The Gresham Autograph. Facsimile.
Introduction by Margaret Laurie and Robert Thompson.

[Gresham College, London, on deposit in Guildhall Library]

Published for Gresham College and The Purcell Society

The Gresham Autograph

London, 1995. Oblong, 33 x 25 cm, xiii, 154 pp. Halftone of the autograph issued on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the composer’s death. Rediscovered in 1911, the Gresham autograph—named after the college in whose library it came to rest in the 19th c.—is an anthology of 48 songs, all but the last 3 in Purcell’s hand. The book, starting as pre-bound volume of ruled music paper, was probably purchased new by Purcell. Into this prepared book the composer copied songs from a variety of larger works. The presence of the opening 6 items from the dramatic opera The Fairy-Queen suggests that he started to use the book some time in the second half of 1692. After an initial spurt of activity, the songs were copied in chronological order, the last appearing to have been added in the middle of 1695. The contents include tunes from the Queen Mary odes (1693-94), the St. Cecilia’s Day ode (1692) and Dioclesian, together with numbers from incidental music to 16 plays, including The Richmond Heiress, Abdelazer and Rule of a Wife. There are also 11 independent songs. It is the great attraction of Gresham that it contains unique variants with other Purcell sources; in some cases words have been added, and a variety of alterations have been made to the basso contino line, leading Purcell editors to suggest that these variants represent the composer's second thoughts and a refinement of the original compositions. The purpose of the book is not clear, some believe that it was for Purcell’s own use as a singer, while others hypothesize that it was a “pupil’s” volume. In any case this facsimile stands as one of the most important and imaginative contributions to Purcell literature. Cloth (adapted from Michael Burden’s review). $160  

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Gresham Autograph, 2