Henry Purcell

The Tempest, or, The Enchanted Island, semi-opera, Z. 631

    Description by John Palmer

    Starting with Dioclesian in 1690, Purcell began to increase the significance and length of the musical sections of the plays to the point that they required as much time as the spoken portions. This prompted Purcell's contemporary Roger North to call Purcell's works "semi-operas." Purcell's incidental music for "The Tempest" was part of an already established tradition of reinventing Shakespeare's plays for the musical stage. In 1667, poet John Dryden made modifications to "The Tempest," adding characters and augmenting it with incidental music. Thomas Shadwell revised Dryden's version in 1674, inserting two masques with musical contributions from several composers, most importantly, Matthew Locke. This seems to have been the preferred version until sometime in the 1690s, when it was supplanted by a new, Italianate setting, anonymous but ultimately attributed to Purcell.

    In recent years, serious doubt about Purcell's authorship of the music for The Tempest have arisen. Much of the string writing resembles that of Arcangelo Corelli more than anything else Purcell composed. The complete da capo arias in the Italian style are unlike those composed by Purcell at the end of his life. Scholars agree, however, that the song, "Dear pretty youth," is indeed by Purcell. It is thought that most of the music was composed by Purcell's student, John Weldon, in or around 1712. There are similarities between some of the music in The Tempest and other examples of Weldon's music for the stage; however, some find The Tempest to be of far greater quality than anything else Weldon composed. It may never be known for certain who wrote most of The Tempest.

    The vocal sections of Purcell's semi-operas were often cast as self-contained "scenes," enabling coherent performance outside the theater. The overture to The Tempest is a contrapuntal delight, with fugal entries featuring an inverted version of the subject. The incidental music begins with the masque of devils in the second act, containing the most famous number of the piece, the da capo aria, "Arise, ye subterranean winds," with the word "Arise" set to upward leaps. Italian influence is clear in the appearance of an instrumental interlude after the first line of text. Also, melismas are on accented syllables and set to long vowels. This Purcell also learned from Italian practice. The dance following "Arise, ye subterranean winds" is from the Prologue of Lully's Cadmus et Hermione. Four more songs appear in Act III and two dances and the song, "Dear pretty youth" take place in Act IV. Among these, "├ćolus, you must appear," is notable for its instrumental symphony and "Halcyon days" is an excellent da capo aria featuring a solo oboe. In Ariel's "Dry those eyes," Purcell avoids the potential monotony of the ground bass by introducing the instruments at different points in the aria. It should be: In "Full Fathom Five," we hear an imitation of bell sounds in both the continuo and chorus. It is not certain where the two dances, "The Devil's Grand Dance" and "The Sailor's Dance," belong in the second act.


    1. No. 1a-b. Overture. [Grave] - [Canzona]
    2. No. 2a. Where doth the black fiend Ambition reside?
    3. No. 2b. In Hell, with flames
    4. No. 2c. Who are the pillars
    5. No. 2d. Care, their minds when they wake
    6. No. 2c. Who are the pillars
    7. No. 2d. Care, their minds when they wake
    8. No. 2e. Around we pace
    9. No. 3a. Prelude
    10. No. 3b. Arise, ye subterranean winds
    11. No. 4. Dance
    12. No. 5a-b. Come unto these yellow sands
    13. No. 5c. Hark the watch-dogs bark
    14. No. 6a. Prelude
    15. No. 6b. Full fathom five
    16. No. 6c. Sea-nymphs hourly
    17. No. 7a. Dry those eyes
    18. No. 7b. Ritornello
    19. No. 8a. Prelude
    20. No. 8b. Kind Fortune smiles
    21. No. 9. Dance of Devils
    22. No. 10. Dear pretty youth
    23. No. 11a. Great Neptune
    24. No. 11b. My dear, my Amphitrite
    25. No. 11c. Fair and serene
    26. No. 11d. Ritornello
    27. No. 13. Aeolus, you must appear
    28. No. 14a. Your awful voice I hear
    29. No. 14b. Air
    30. No. 14c. Come down my blusterers
    31. No. 14d. To your prisons below
    32. No. 15a. Prelude
    33. No. 15b. Halcyon days
    34. No. 16a. Prelude
    35. No. 16b. See the heavens smile
    36. No. 17a-b. No stars again shall hurt you

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2009 Warner Classics 4691990
    2009 Erato 2564698420
    2000 Naxos 554262
    1995 Erato 96555