Pssst…is that Henry Purcell???

Have you ever spotted a celebrity such as a movie star in your daily life? Like in a restaurant or walking down the street?

If you have, you may have had a moment when you asked yourself “Is that her? It looks like her, but she’s a little taller than she looks in the movies.” Or something like that.

I have this experience the other day, but with a composer’s music on the radio.

I got in my car and turned the radio to my favorite station, WKCR-FM from Columbia University. (You can listen to them online too.). They play a wide variety of music at different times of the day, and I tuned in to their early classical music show about 20 minutes before the show was scheduled to end.

The music immediately caught my ear, because it sounded like it was by one of my favorite composers, Henry Purcell.

If you’ve ever played the piano pieces in the books Easy Classics To Moderns, or Intermediate Classics To Moderns, you know that Purcell wrote some short, charming keyboard music that is Baroque in style but with an English harmonic sensibility. Sort of like Handel but with a unique “sound.”

Well, the music on the radio was for various instruments, and sounded to me like it was Purcell. Then they played a vocal piece that I’m certain was also by Purcell.

But after that, there was a flashy duet for two recorders that sounded “kind of like in the same overall style but not quite Purcell-like.” But then the next piece sounded English but maybe not by Purcell.

This perplexed me, since I could tell that the DJ was simply letting a CD run in its entirely, and I couldn‘t figure out if it was a CD of music by Henry Purcell or another composer.

The thing about listing to music from another culture or era is that the differences between musicians begin to fade the further we get away from it. Early jazz is like that too. Trumpet players that sounded entirely different to residents of New Orleans in 1920 may sound virtually indistinguishable to us today, unless we carefully train our ears by immersing ourselves in that style.

The more I listened, the more intrigued I became. Was this Purcell’s music or wasn’t it??? In fact, even after I parked my car, I kept listening for another 10 minutes until the DJ finally came on and told us what had been playing.

It turned out that the music was from a collection of early Baroque music.

A collection!!!

And yes, some of it was indeed by Mr. Purcell, as well as some other English music and also some Italian Baroque music. I’ll bet that the recorder duet I heard was from Italy, since the Italian composers from that time like to write virtuosic flourishes. That’s part of where Bach picked it up from.

So yes, that was Henry Purcell, spotted on the airwaves of WKCR-FM!!

Here’s a sample of Purcell’s keyboard music. I hope this inspires you to learn some of his delightful music as well!

The Charm of Henry Purcell’s keyboard music

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

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