Thomas D’Urfey (1653 – 1723) was a poet and dramatist perhaps best known today for his collection of lyrics, mostly set to other people’s tunes, called Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy. During 1689 he wrote the epilogue for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and D’Urfey’s three Don Quixote plays were produced in1694-95 and are more semi-operas with lots of incidental instrumental music as well as songs inserted both in the action of the play and in independent interludes of spectacle and dancing.
In 1734, Henry Fielding’s hilariously funny play Don Quixote in England was presented, with 14 songs by none other than Thomas D’Urfey. As a song composer D’Urfey never expended unnecessary energy in writing a new tune when there were so many good ones in the country dance and ballad books, so we have decided to end our Don Quixote evening with a group of songs from this play complemented by some country dances arranged for our band.
John Eccles (1668-1735) was active as a composer at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane where D’Urfey’s plays were staged. His first job there in 1693 was to write a song for the actress Anne Bracegirdle in D’Urfey’s, The Richmond Heiress. The song was wildly successful, and Eccles became a very popular theater composer. Mrs. Bracegirdle sang only his music from this point on including his stunning mad song I burn in Don Quixote.
Of course Henry Purcell (1659-1695) stands in the center of the English theatrical tradition and must be considered one of the greatest English composers of any era. The Restoration was a great impetus for musical development in England. The days of relatively insular English instrumental and vocal music were over, and it became fashionable to incorporate French and Italian elements into the English tradition. Purcell’s songs are astounding both for their quantity and remarkably consistent quality. He wrote over 250 solo songs on all sorts of texts, both those intended for domestic use and those used in the various theater works to which he contributed. His lastsong, according to Orpheus Britannicus, is From Rosie Bow’rs, like Eccles’ I burn, a multi-sectional mad song from Don Quixote. Regardless of subject matter, Purcell’s songs are surely among the best settings ever of English texts.