Purcell, Handel and Literature (collaboration with the Purcell Society, the Open University and the University of London’s Institute of Musical Research)

20–21 November 2009

Senate House, University of London

Institutes of Musical Research and English Studies;
School of Advanced Study, University of London;
Departments of Music and Literature, The Open University;
The Handel Institute; The Purcell Society.

This conference was one of the concluding events in the year marking the anniversaries of Henry Purcell’s birth (1658 or 1659) and Handel’s death (1759).

Taken together, the careers of Purcell and Handel constitute one of the most remarkable periods in London’s music-making. Although Handel’s career in London commenced only fifteen years after Purcell’s death, their styles in setting English texts were very different, partly because of their individual approaches to word-setting and partly because of the different contexts in which they worked. For both of them, however, English literary texts were fundamental: both wrote for major productions (of plays or un-staged oratorios) in London theatres and contributed to some common genres – Cecilian and court odes, and liturgical church music on texts from the Book of Common Prayer.

The intention of the conference was to bring together participants with interests in music and literature, and to cover such topics as: the literary and musical genres, the nature of libretti and the composers’ treatment of them; the various forms of musical dramas (as genres, and in relation to the stage conventions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries); the status of Milton and Dryden as ‘musical’ poets; the setting of English liturgical texts; the influence of text settings by Purcell and Handel on subsequent composers and in subsequent literature.


Colin Timms and Bruce Wood (eds.), Music in the London Theatre from Purcell to Handel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).