Dido and Aeneas: An Epitome of Baroque Music

Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695) was the most influential English baroque composer, together with German-born George Frederic Handel. He was born in the town of Westminster, England. He had two brothers, Edward and Daniel, the latter was a great composer as well. When he was five years old, Henry’s father died, and he went to live with his uncle.

Purcell began to compose when he was nine years old, and his first public work was an ode for the king’s birthday, which Henry composed at age eleven. After many years of experience, the Englishman composed an opera which would continue to be produced with great success centuries later: Dido and Aeneas.

Meeting of Dido and Aeneas

Meeting of Dido and Aeneas

Dido and Aeneas is an opera in three acts based upon Virgil’s Aeneid. It tells the story, using dramatic music and lyrics, of the beautiful Queen Dido of Carthage and the Trojan Aeneas. Dido and Aeneas fall in love when he sails to Carthage. But a sorceress, who wants to destroy Carthage and it’s queen, decides to deceive Aeneas into leaving Carthage, breaking Dido’s heart. This, she concludes, would successfully end the queen’s life and reign. 

A servant of the sorceress goes to Aeneas disguised as the god Mercury. He tells him that it is the wish of the gods that he (Aeneas) goes immediately to found Rome. Brokenhearted, but loath to incur the wrath of the gods, Aeneas makes plans to sail away from Carthage. Thus Dido’s heart breaks and she plans to kill herself. The following aria far exceeds the entire opera regarding tragedy, as Dido sings her lament prior to her death. This saddening aria is called When I am Laid in Earth.

Recitative (recitation prior to the aria):
Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.
Aria:
When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Being one of the most popular baroque arias, there is a wide range of renditions to choose from. Two of my favorite ones are the following. The first is by mezzo-soprano Janet Baker, and the latter by countertenor Andreas Scholl.

 

Here is one of many versions of the entire opera: Dido and Aeneas

 

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