Henry Purcell - Dido and Aeneas Critical Analysis

Henry Purcell - Dido and Aeneas Critical Analysis

Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell – Musical Analysis

The aim of this essay is to “Discuss the relationship between words and music in four or more movements from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell.” It will be done through a detailed analysis of the Opera as a whole, including the instrumental Overture, Dido’s Aria, a passage of recitative and the last Chorus, which finishes the opera; as well as musical examples from the score.

The English Baroque Opera, Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, was adapted from Aeneid by Virgil, a classical Roman poet, which was written in the late 1st Century. Nahum Tate wrote the libretto.

Dido and Aeneas is a short opera, which is fast paced in nature. The key structure in parts of Dido and Aeneas is unusual and well crafted.:-

The first scene is in C minor - Dido is unhappy and fearful about falling in love with Aeneas as she has never loved since her husband died in battle. She knows that Aeneas is in love with her.

The second scene switches into a joyous C Major, after Dido reveals her feelings.

The next two scenes mirror the first two, but instead of going from C Minor to C Major, it goes from F Minor when the witches hatch their plot, going into F Major when they have finalised their plan to send Aeneas away.

The opera begins in Carthage, North East Africa, in the Palace of Dido. An unexpected guest arrives - Aeneas, who has been blown off course whilst sailing to Italy to found Rome after fleeing from Troy, which has been defeated in the Trojan War.

The music begins with a purely instrumental orchestral Overture. The style of the piece is called a French Overture, because it has a slow dotted-rhythm section and then a fast fugal section). Already, the intense, fateful mood of the opera is expressed through Purcell’s use of chromaticism and suspensions throughout, coupled with the minor key signature. Price, C (1986) writes,

‘The first section writhes with a chromatic tension that seems to lead...

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