Suite from The Fairy Queen
The hiatus in English music brought by the Puritan Revolution and the Commonwealth era (1640–1690) was compensated by the flourishing of Italian and French music and stagecraft, leading to the building of new theaters with mechanical special effects, lavish furnishings, and audiences eager to indulge themselves in long-suppressed excess. These theatrical entertainments were in the form of masques consisting of solos, choruses, dances, and spoken dialogue, for, as a contemporary writer observed, “Other Nations bestow the name of Opera only on such Plays whereof every word is sung. But experience hath taught us that our English genius will not relish that perpetual singing.” Only in Handel’s generation did “perpetual singing” become the norm in London. Purcell’s instrumental music for Fairy Queen, a masque loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, reflects the popularity of theatrical dances in the English (hornpipe) and French (rondeau) forms as well as a canonic “Dance for the Followers of Night.” The final Chaconne is a series of variations on an 8-bar harmonic progression with the second beat accents characteristic of the sarabande. French composers often ended acts or complete works with chaconnes, and the Francophile Purcell concludes his masque in the same manner.