Daniel Purcell

Greenwich Naval College painted by Antonio (1697-1768)

Daniel Purcell was born in 1664 – five years after his celebrated brother Henry. At the age of 14 he became a chorister at the Chapel Royal – it is recorded that payments were made to him there between 1678 and 1682. Around 1689/90 he was appointed organist of Magdalene College, Oxford where he became well known not only as a local musician but also a maker of puns and as an excellent drinking companion!

It was at this time that he began to produce some of his first major compositions including, in 1693, an ode to St. Cecilia’s Day. In 1695, the year his brother Henry died, he moved to London but managed to retain many links with Oxford by composing further Odes for St. Cecilia’s Day in 1698, 1699 and 1707.

Colley Cibber (1671-1757) actor, manager, playwright and Poet Laureate. Seen here acting the part of Lord Foppington in ‘The Relapse’

In London he wrote the incidental music for over 40 theatre plays – mostly before the turn of the century – including Cibber’s ‘Love’s Last Shift’ for the 1697-98 season. In 1697 he collaborated with Jeremiah Clarke in Settle’s ‘World in the Moon’. In 1698 he composed music to Nahum Tate’s ‘Lamentation on the Death of Henry Purcell’.

On 21st March 1700 the ‘London Gazette’ carried the following advertisement:

“Several persons of quality having for the encouragement of musick advanced 200 guineas to be distributed in 4 prices, the first of 100, the second of 50, and the third of 30, and the fourth of 20 guineas to each master as shall be judged to compose the best. This is therefore to give notice that those who intend to put in for the prizes are to repair to Jacob Tonson at Grays Inn-gate before Easter next day, where they be further informed.”

The principal person behind this venture was Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax (1661-1715) who raised the 200 Guineas to be given away as prizes for the best musical settings of the masque ‘The Judgement of Paris’ by William Congreve.

The competition was held in Dorset Gardens in March and April 1701 with 85 musicians plus singers. Congreve describing it in a letter dated 26th March 1701 to Joseph Keally, mentions the grandeur of the occasion and that, “the whole family being transplanted thither with chocolate, cooled drinks, ratafia, portico, etc., which everybody that would, called for, the whole expense being defrayed by the subscribers”.

Daniel Purcell painted by John Closterman (1660-1711)

The first prize was awarded to John Weldon, the second to John Eccles, the third to Daniel Purcell and the fourth to Godfrey Finger. John Walsh in London published Daniel’s Purcell’s version.

The Judgement of Paris was also set to music later in the eighteenth century by Sammartini and, more famously, by Thomas Arne.

In 1712 Daniel Purcell gave a concert of ‘vocal and instrumental music entirely new’, at the Stationers’ Hall in London.

In 1713, at the age of 49, Daniel Purcell became the organist at St. Andrew’s Church Holborn – a position he held for the rest of his life. In the same year he published an unusual set of works – a collection of Italian style cantatas but with English words.

When Daniel Purcell died he was buried in St. Andrew’s Church – the Burial Registers recording, “Daniel Purcell from Fetter Lane ye 26th November 1717”.

Many musical commentators agree that Daniel Purcell’s music has been unfairly overshadowed by that of his brother and that it accordingly deserves a much wider audience.


Stradivarius – STR33360

Daniel Purcell – Solo and Trio Sonatas and Cantatas
played by Les Tresors D’Orphee


Daniel Purcell – Brotherly Love
Suite: Virtue in Danger
Cantata: By silver Thames’ flow’ry side
Sonanta for Violin and Continuo
Symphonie Song: Is innocence so void of Cares?
When Daphne first her Shepherd saw
Cantata: The beauteous Daphne
Morpheus, thou gentle God
A Lesson in D Minor for solo harpsichord
‘Twas Night
Symphonie Song: Beneath a gloomy shade

9 thoughts on “Daniel Purcell

  1. The hardest part about rescuing musical compositions from obscurity is probably persuading enough backers to contribute towards a viable recording of the works.
    In one case, I am happy to be able to say I was in the right place at the right time to be now able to buy a copy of Daniel Purcell’s The Judgment of Paris.
    I have read the earlier comments on this website and can now in 2016 only marvel at the various developments that have taken place since 2013.
    I would treat Daniel’s musical abilities on a par with that of his brother.
    Coming third place in that 1701 competition must in itself have been rewarding.

    The new world premier recording of the Judgment comes to us courtesy of Spiritato!, whom we heard live at a London venue last week.
    Any interested parties in buying a copy of this work should do so.
    I will hastily add that I have no vested interests in the recording itself but applaud all concerned who made it possible.
    Thank you for reading my comments.
    Alistair Kewish ( Mr)

  2. Thank you for making Daniel Purcell known to us all. I have recently performed his flute sonata in F-Major for my Music Appreciation class. The sonata is published Urtext along with other lesser known Baroque composers in Flotenmusic Barock by Henle Verlag. It is complete with basso continuo and alternate keyboard. Thank you again.
    Dr. Elizabeth Carson-Bird, Mineral Area College

    • Many thanks for your comments. I know the sonata you mention. It’s a lovely work.
      Thank you again for taking the trouble to write.

  3. I very much appreciate your work and the time and dedication it must have taken to complete this website. It is always great to find other people who enjoy music and such classics.

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