Orpheus Britannicus

Orpheus Britannicus is a collection of songs by Henry Purcell, published posthumously in London in two volumes, the first in 1698 and the second in 1702. In the preface to the first volume, Henry Playford, the printer of the volume and the son of the famous John Playford, extolls Purcell's skill as setter of English texts.[1]

Frontispiece of the second edition of volume I, London: William Pearson 1706
Portrait of Purcell engraved by R.White after Closterman, from the second edition of volume I, London: William Pearson 1706

The portrait on the frontispiece was based on John Closterman's portrait of Purcell, currently in the National Portrait Gallery.[2][3]

The first publication of a section of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas was the air "Ah! Belinda" in Orpheus Britannicus, transposed up one step, from C to D.[4]

Henry Hall, who had studied composition with Purcell under John Blow, wrote the dedicatory poems at the beginning of each volume, (1698 and 1702) and also wrote one for Blow's Amphion Anglicus.[5]

The later 1706 London printing of Orpheus Britannicus by William Pearson utilized a new style of music printing to great success, where the notehead was in one piece with the background staff.[6][dubious ]

John Blow's Amphion Anglicus (1700), a collection of Blow's songs, excerpts from odes, and chamber music, was published by subscription, after Orpheus Britannicus' success, and even shows a certain symmetry in title.[7]

A later engraver, Cole Benjamin (fl 1740–1760), printed as Orpheus Britannicus a seemingly unrelated set of engravings which he had made originally for The New Universal Magazine (1751–9).[8]

Benjamin Britten, working with Peter Pears, realized and edited a number of songs from Orpheus Britannicus for both solo singer with piano as part of Britten's Purcell Realizations.[9]



  1. ^ Purcell, 2. Domestic vocal music
  2. ^ For the original painting, see [1]
  3. ^ Purcell, 8. Portraits
  4. ^ Dido and Aeneas
  5. ^ Hall
  6. ^ Printing and Publishing
  7. ^ Blow
  8. ^ Cole
  9. ^ Britten