Composers Datebook®

A Purcell premiere?

Composers Datebook for April 11, 2018


On today’s date in 1689, London celebrated the coronation of William and Mary of Orange as the new Protestant monarchs of Britain. Thirty-nine musicians participated in the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, all wearing specially-tailored scarlet robes. One of them was Henry Purcell, today regarded as the greatest British composer of his time.

That same date is sometimes offered as marking the premiere performance of Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” a few miles away in Chelsea at Josias Priest’s School for Young Ladies. This exact date and circumstance of this work, widely regarded as the first great British opera and one of Purcell’s masterworks, remains very uncertain. April 30th is also cited as a possibility for its premiere, being the date of Queen Mary’s birthday. In any case, the premiere occurred sometime that year, as the libretto by Nahum Tate was published in London that December.

Three years earlier Tate had written a poem that compared the deposed Catholic King James II to Aeneas, and constructed an allegory implying that James had been led astray by witches, the result being that he abandoned the British people, just as the legendary Trojan Prince Aeneas had abandoned Queen Dido of Carthage in order to found a new empire in Rome. Since the Catholic King James II had also fled to Rome, some have speculated that Purcell’s opera was a political allegory, commissioned by Mr. Priest’s School for Young Ladies to celebrate either the coronation or birthday of the new Protestant Queen.

Music Played in Today's Program

Henry Purcell (1659–1695) Dido and Aeneas Suite Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; Thomas Hengelbrock, cond. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77231

On This Day


  • 1682 - French composer Jean-Joseph Mouret, in Avignon; He achieved belated fame in American when one of his trumpet fanfares was used as the theme for public televisions's "Masterpiece Theater";

  • 1891 - Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (Gregorian date: April 23);

  • 1916 - Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, in Buenos Aires;


  • 1689 - possible premiere of Purcell: opera "Dido and Aeneas,"in Chelsea (London) at Josias Priest's School for Young Ladies; This exact date and circumstance of this premiere is uncertain: April 30 th is also cited as a possibility (April 11, 1689 marked the coronation of the Protestant monarchs William and Mary, and April 30 th was Queen Mary's birthday); In any case, the premiere most likely occurred sometime before the libretto by Nahum Tate was published in December of 1689;

  • 1727 - J.S. Bach: possible premiere of "St. Matthew Passion" (first version), at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig;

  • 1814 - Beethoven: "Archduke" Piano Trio in Bb, Op. 97, at the Hotel "Zum Romischen Kaiser" in Vienna, with violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, cellist Joseph Linke, and the composer at the piano; This was the last time the Beethoven performed in public as a pianist;

  • 1884 - d'Indy: symphonic poem "La Mort de Wallenstein" (Wallenstein's Death), in Paris;

  • 1891 - Dvorák: "Dumky" Piano Trio, Op. 90, in Prague, at a concert celebrating Dvorák's honorary doctorate from Prague's Charles University, with Ferdinand Lachner (violin), Hanus Wihan (cello), and the composer at the piano;

  • 1902 - Loeffler: "Two Poems"for orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, Wilhelm Gericke conducting;

  • 1920 - Respighi: "Ballata delle gnomidi" (Dance of the Gnomes) for orchestra, in Rome, Bernardino Molinari conducting;

  • 1934 - Bloch: "Sacred Service," in New York City, by the Schola Cantorum, conducted by the composer;

  • 1965 - David Amram: Passover opera "The Final Ingredient" is produced on television in New York City;

  • 1967 - Hovhaness: "The Holy City" for orchestra, in Portland, Maine;

  • 1999 - Augusta Read Thomas: "Passion Prayers" for solo cello and six instruments, in Philadelphia by the Network for New Music, with cellist Scott Kluksdahl;


  • 1770 - Leopold and Wolgang Mozart attend a Holy Week service at St. Peter's in Rome and hear Allegri's "Miserere"performed by the Chapel Choir; The Vatican had jealously guarded Allegri's score as their exclusive property, and under threat of excommunication, the Vatican choir was forbidden to let the score be taken out of the Chapel, copied, or even seen by any outsider; That same evening, after one hearing, Wolfgang (age 14) transcribed the piece from memory; The Mozarts then returned to St. Peter's three days later to check Wolfgang's version against a repeat performance of Allegri's music;

  • 1874 - American premiere of Brahms' "Haydn Variations," by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, conducted by Theodore Thomas;

  • 1888 - The Concertgebouw opens in Amsterdam with a concert performed by a 700-piece ensemble; Later that year the famed Concertgebouw Orchestra was formed;

  • 1902 - Italian tenor Enrico Caruso makes his first 10 phonograph records for the Gramophone Typewriter Company in a room at the Grand Hotel in Milan; His last of his 498 phonograph recordings would be made in the Victor Studios in Camden, New Jersey on September 16, 1920;

  • 1919 - The New Symphony Orchestra, organized by composer Edgard Varèse for the performance of new music, gives its first concert in New York City;

  • 1930 - American premiere of staged version of Stravinsky's ballet "The Rite of Spring," in Philadelphia, choreographed by Massine and conducted by Stokowski;

  • 1941 - Austrian-born composer Arnold Schönberg becomes an American citizen and officially changes the spelling of his name to Schoenberg.

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®