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Henry Purcell and Gerard Manley Hopkins: Two Explorations of Identity

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Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Henry Purcell" encompasses two of Hopkins' greatest interests: music and identity. As he relates to the reader his own experience of Henry Purcell's music, Hopkins observes that individual identities are dependent upon their connection to larger groups for their self-definition. Henry Purcell is an especially appropriate subject for this examination because many of Purcell's sacred anthems musically explore the idea that the self is distinct and yet related to others. Although other analyses of Purcell's musical influence on the poem have focused on his secular music, there is good reason to also consider Purcell’s sacred music as an influence on Hopkins' poem. A close analysis of the poem and of two representative Purcell verse anthems that Hopkins may well have heard performed in his lifetime, Blessed Be the Lord My Strength and O Give Thanks, reveals that both poet and composer focus on a complex interaction between individual and group, soloist and chorus. Purcell's intricate musical expression of individual identity is mirrored in Hopkins' sonnet about the composer's place within music history and humanity.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2002


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