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Musical detective fixes 241-year-old muddle to restore one of Purcell's works

20 Feb 2012

Musical detective work has transformed one of Purcell's best-loved works – known by music-lovers around the world – into something radically different.

Dr Rebecca Herissone from The University of Manchester discovered that the version played for the past 241 years was corrupted in the eighteenth century, and is quite different from Purcell's original.

Henry Purcell wrote the piece Come ye sons of art for the birthday of Queen Mary in 1694. The work has a regular spot in music-society repertoires, and today is one of Purcell's most popular pieces.

But the only surviving complete source of the ode was copied by an unknown musician called Robert Pindar in 1765, 71 years after the première.

To the amazement of the academic based at the University's School of Arts, Histories and Cultures, she discovered that Pindar had radically changed Purcell's music.

He used different instruments, and changed repeats, notation and words and may even have replaced a whole movement with another Purcell piece.

Dr Herissone said: "As we don't know if the autograph score survives, we don't have any way to check Pindar's copy with the original.

"But Pindar also copied three other odes by Purcell, and we are able to compare the composer's autographs with Pindar's versions of these pieces. It's not been done before because not many people are aware of these Pindar copies.

"So when I did compare them, I was amazed to see enormous differences. I've identified how Pindar makes changes to Purcell's music and have used this knowledge to reconstruct Purcell's original version of Come ye sons of art.

"It's now almost a new piece, but I'm confident it's pretty close to the original."

Dr Herissone was spurred into action when she read an article by Prof. Peter Holman of Leeds University and the Parley of Instruments orchestra about an 1825 work by Thomas Busby.

The book—Concert Room and Orchestra Anecdotes—contains a facsimile which appears to come from Purcell's lost autograph of Come ye sons of art.

She added: "It was only a small fragment, but the first bar is scored very differently from Pindar's version.

"That spurred me into carrying out a bit of detective work.

"No one really knows who Pindar was—and it's probably not even his real name.

"But for sure he wasn't a very good musician. He gets his harmony wrong and uses a kind of cut-and-paste approach to his arrangements that really isn't very imaginative.

"Since this piece has a regular spot in the music-society repertoire, it might be a bit of a shock for some Purcell aficionados."

The piece will be heard at the University on 23 February

A short section of the 'Strike the viol' ritornello, from Come ye sons of art played by University of Manchester music students, is available on MP3.

An electronic copy of the score for the 'Strike the viol' ritornello is available. Examples 1-3 show pages from Dr Herissone's reconstruction and examples 4-6 show the equivalent passages in Pindar's score.

Dr Herissone is available for interview.

For more details contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881 567