As Nicholas Kenyon says, quoting Ralph Vaughan Williams in the introduction to this volume, 'We all pay lip service to Henry Purcell, but what do we really know of him?'. Many aspects of the composer's life remain obscure, but, with the approach of the tercentenary of Henry Purcell's death in 1995, much of his music would be performed again, in some cases for the first time for many years. It was clear that many issues of performance practice needed to be aired before 1995; further it was equally clear that such discussion should begin early and should be available in published form. To this end, a group of scholars and performers gathered at Exeter College, Oxford in 1993 and the contents of this volume represents some of the fruits of their deliberation.
The first part of the book considers purely musical issues, and covers a wide range of topics. Peter Holman looks at the importance of the Oxford set parts for Restoration Concerted Music in the overall picture of orchestral practice in the seventeenth century. This is followed by two organological essays, one on organs (Dominic Gwynne) and the other on violins (John Dilworth). The remainder of this first section has three studies of historical performance - on Percell's "Exotic" trumpet notes (Peter Downey), on Queen Mary's Funeral Music (Bruce Wood), and ornamenting Purcell's keyboard music (H Diack Johnson) - and two concerning singers and singing - Purcell's stage singers (Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson) and on voice ranges, voice types and pitch (Timothy Morris).
The second part of the book, devoted to the stage works, opens with an examination of past performances of the dramatic operas in Michael Burden's essay, 'Percell debauch'd'. Contributors then examine the importance of allegory in performing stage works (Andrew Walkling), theatrical dance (Richard Semmens), costume and etiquette (Ruth Eva Ronen), stage music (Roger Savage), and aspects of performing Dioclesian (Julia and Frans Muller) and King Arthur (Lionel Sawkins).